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animation showing a roughly star-shaped graph being traced out as a smaller circle rolls around inside of a larger circle
Credit: Sam Derbyshire

A hypotrochoid is a curve traced out by a point "attached" to a smaller circle rolling around inside a fixed larger circle. In this example, the hypotrochoid is the red curve that is traced out by the red point 5 units from the center of the black circle of radius 3 as it rolls around inside the blue circle of radius 5. A special case is a hypotrochoid with the inner circle exactly one-half the radius of the outer circle, resulting in an ellipse (see an animation showing this). Mathematical analysis of closely-related curves called hypocycloids lead to special Lie groups. Both hypotrochoids and epitrochoids (where the moving circle rolls around on the outside of the fixed circle) can be created using the Spirograph drawing toy. These curves have applications in the "real world" in epicyclic and hypocycloidal gearing, which were used in World War II in the construction of portable radar gear and may be used today in 3D printing.

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