In mathematics, curvature is any of a number of loosely related concepts in different areas of geometry. Intuitively, curvature is the amount by which a geometric object such as a surface deviates from being a flat plane, or a curve from being straight as in the case of a line, but this is defined in different ways depending on the context. There is a key distinction between extrinsic curvature, which is defined for objects embedded in another space (usually a Euclidean space) – in a way that relates to the radius of curvature of circles that touch the object – and intrinsic curvature, which is defined in terms of the lengths of curves within a Riemannian manifold. This article deals primarily with the extrinsic concept. The canonical example of extrinsic curvature is that of a circle, which has a curvature equal to the reciprocal of its radius everywhere. Smaller circles bend more sharply, and hence have higher curvature. The curvature of a smooth curve is defined as the curvature of its osculating circle at each point. More commonly curvature is a scalar quantity, but one may also define a curvature vector that takes into account the direction of the bend as well as its sharpness. The curvature of more complex objects (such as surfaces or even curved n-dimensional spaces) is described by more complex objects from linear algebra, such as the general Riemann curvature tensor.
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