Study Guide

In the Real World

In the Real World

Conics sections aren't just numbers and letters on a page, some abstracted ideal Platonic form that sits around doing nothing all day. Each of the conic sections has useful applications in the Real World.

We've mentioned before that parabolas can describe something that's been tossed into the air. They get a lot of air-time (ba-dum psh) in intro physics courses.

Ellipses describe the motions of objects around the sun—not just the planets, including Earth, but comets and asteroids, too. Speaking of stuff in space, scientists can slingshot satellites around other planets, to give them a speed boost, in a little move called a gravity assist. The change in motion of the satellite looks like a hyperbola; you can play around with the effect here.

And finally, we have circles. Do…do we really need to tell you about circles? We don't think so.