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Mathematics LibreTexts

9: Conics

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    In this chapter, we will explore a set of shapes defined by a common characteristic: they can all be formed by slicing a cone with a plane. These families of curves have a broad range of applications in physics and astronomy, from describing the shape of your car headlight reflectors to describing the orbits of planets and comets.

    • 9.1: Ellipses
      An ellipse is a type of conic section, a shape resulting from intersecting a plane with a cone and looking at the curve where they intersect. They were discovered by the Greek mathematician Menaechmus over two millennia ago.
    • 9.2: Hyperbolas
      In the last section, we learned that planets have approximately elliptical orbits around the sun. When an object like a comet is moving quickly, it is able to escape the gravitational pull of the sun and follows a path with the shape of a hyperbola. Hyperbolas are curves that can help us find the location of a ship, describe the shape of cooling towers, or calibrate seismological equipment. The hyperbola is another type of conic section created by intersecting a plane with a double cone.
    • 9.3: Parabolas and Non-Linear Systems
    • 9.4: Conics in Polar Coordinates