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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
      While we studied parabolas earlier when we explored quadratics, at the time we did not discuss them as a conic section. A parabola is the shape resulting from when a plane parallel to the side of the cone intersects the cone.
    • 9.4: Conics in Polar Coordinates
      In the preceding sections, we defined each conic in a different way, but each involved the distance between a point on the curve and the focus. In the previous section, the parabola was defined using the focus and a line called the directrix. It turns out that all conic sections (circles, ellipses, hyperbolas, and parabolas) can be defined using a single relationship.

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