In mathematics, a plane curve is a curve in a plane that may be either a Euclidean plane, an affine plane or a projective plane. The most frequently studied cases are smooth plane curves (including piecewise smooth plane curves), and algebraic plane curves. Plane curves also include the Jordan curves (curves that enclose a region of the plane but need not be smooth) and the graphs of continuous functions.
A plane curve can often be represented in Cartesian coordinates by an implicit equation of the form for some specific function f. If this equation can be solved explicitly for y or x – that is, rewritten as or for specific function g or h – then this provides an alternative, explicit, form of the representation. A plane curve can also often be represented in Cartesian coordinates by a parametric equation of the form for specific functions and
Plane curves can sometimes also be represented in alternative coordinate systems, such as polar coordinates that express the location of each point in terms of an angle and a distance from the origin.
A smooth plane curve is a curve in a real Euclidean plane R2 and is a one-dimensional smooth manifold. This means that a smooth plane curve is a plane curve which "locally looks like a line", in the sense that near every point, it may be mapped to a line by a smooth function. Equivalently, a smooth plane curve can be given locally by an equation f(x, y) = 0, where f : R2 → R is a smooth function, and the partial derivatives ∂f/∂x and ∂f/∂y are never both 0 at a point of the curve.
Algebraic curves have been studied extensively since the 18th century.
Every algebraic plane curve has a degree, the degree of the defining equation, which is equal, in case of an algebraically closed field, to the number of intersections of the curve with a line in general position. For example, the circle given by the equation x2 + y2 = 1 has degree 2.
The non-singular plane algebraic curves of degree 2 are called conic sections, and their projective completion are all isomorphic to the projective completion of the circle x2 + y2 = 1 (that is the projective curve of equation x2 + y2 – z2= 0). The plane curves of degree 3 are called cubic plane curves and, if they are non-singular, elliptic curves. Those of degree 4 are called quartic plane curves.
Numerous examples of plane curves are shown in Gallery of curves and listed at List of curves. The algebraic curves of degree 1 or 2 are shown here (an algebraic curve of degree less than 3 is always contained in a plane):
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