Conic Section

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There exists a certain group of curves called Conic Sections that are conceptually kin in several astonishing ways. Each member of this group has a certain shape, and can be classified appropriately: as either a circle, an ellipse, a parabola, or a hyperbola. The term "Conic Section" can be applied to any one of these curves, and the study of one curve is not essential to the study of another. However, their correlation to each other is one of the more intriguing coincidences of mathematics.

Put simply, a conic section is a shape generated when a cone intersects with a plane. There are four main types of conic sections: parabola, hyperbola, circle, and ellipse. The circle is sometimes categorized as a type of ellipse.

In mathematics, a conic section (or just conic) is a curve obtained as the intersection of a cone (more precisely, a right circular conical surface) with a plane. In analytic geometry, a conic may be defined as a plane algebraic curve of degree 2. There are a number of other geometric definitions possible. One of the most useful, in that it involves only the plane, is that a conic consists of those points whose distances to some point, called a focus, and some line, called a directrix, are in a fixed ratio, called the eccentricity.

Traditionally, the three types of conic section are the hyperbola, the parabola, and the ellipse. The circle is a special case of the ellipse, and is of sufficient interest in its own right that it is sometimes called the fourth type of conic section. The type of a conic corresponds to its eccentricity, those with eccentricity less than 1 being ellipses, those with eccentricity equal to 1 being parabolas, and those with eccentricity greater than 1 being hyperbolas. In the focus-directrix definition of a conic the circle is a limiting case with eccentricity 0. In modern geometry certain degenerate cases, such as the union of two lines, are included as conics as well.

1. Parabola
2. Circle and ellipse
3. Hyperbola
In mathematics, a parabola is a conic section, created from the intersection of a right circular conical surface and a plane parallel to a generating straight line of that surface. Another way to generate a parabola is to examine a point (the focus) and a line (the directrix). The locus of points in that plane that are equidistant from both the line and point is a parabola. In algebra, parabolas are frequently encountered as graphs of quadratic functions, such as

The line perpendicular to the directrix and passing through the focus (that is, the line that splits the parabola through the middle) is called the "axis of symmetry". The point on the axis of symmetry that intersects the parabola is called the "vertex", and it is the point where the curvature is greatest. The distance between the vertex and the focus, measured along the axis of symmetry, is the "focal length". Parabolas can open up, down, left, right, or in some other arbitrary direction. Any parabola can be repositioned and rescaled to fit exactly on any other parabola — that is, all parabolas are similar.

Parabolas have the property that, if they are made of material that reflects light, then light which enters a parabola travelling parallel to its axis of symmetry is reflected to its focus, regardless of where on the parabola the reflection occurs. Conversely, light that originates from a point source at the focus is reflected ("collimated") into a parallel beam, leaving the parabola parallel to the axis of symmetry. The same effects occur with sound and other forms of energy. This reflective property is the basis of many practical uses of parabolas.

The parabola has many important applications, from automobile headlight reflectors to the design of ballistic missiles. They are frequently used in physics, engineering, and many other areas.

A parabola, showing arbitrary line...
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