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In mathematics, a projection is an idempotent mapping of a set (or other mathematical structure) into a subset (or sub-structure). In this case, idempotent means that projecting twice is the same as projecting once. The restriction to a subspace of a projection is also called a projection, even if the idempotence property is lost. An everyday example of a projection is the casting of shadows onto a plane (sheet of paper): the projection of a point is its shadow on the sheet of paper, and the projection (shadow) of a point on the sheet of paper is that point itself (idempotency). The shadow of a three-dimensional sphere is a closed disk. Originally, the notion of projection was introduced in Euclidean geometry to denote the projection of the three-dimensional Euclidean space onto a plane in it, like the shadow example. The two main projections of this kind are:
- The projection from a point onto a plane or central projection: If C is a point, called the center of projection, then the projection of a point P different from C onto a plane that does not contain C is the intersection of the line CP with the plane. The points P such that the line CP is parallel to the plane does not have any image by the projection, but one often says that they project to a point at infinity of the plane (see Projective geometry for a formalization of this terminology). The projection of the point C itself is not defined.
- The projection parallel to a direction D, onto a plane or parallel projection: The image of a point P is the intersection with the plane of the line parallel to D passing through P. See Affine space § Projection for an accurate definition, generalized to any dimension.
The concept of projection in mathematics is a very old one, and most likely has its roots in the phenomenon of the shadows cast by real-world objects on the ground. This rudimentary idea was refined and abstracted, first in a geometric context and later in other branches of mathematics. Over time different versions of the concept developed, but today, in a sufficiently abstract setting, we can unify these variations.
In cartography, a map projection is a map of a part of the surface of the Earth onto a plane, which, in some cases, but not always, is the restriction of a projection in the above meaning. The 3D projections are also at the basis of the theory of perspective.
The need for unifying the two kinds of projections and of defining the image by a central projection of any point different of the center of projection are at the origin of projective geometry. However, a projective transformation is a bijection of a projective space, a property not shared with the projections of this article.
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