conic section or conic (kŏnˈĭk) [key], curve formed by the intersection of a plane and a right circular cone (conical surface). The ordinary conic sections are the circle, the ellipse, the parabola, and the hyperbola. When the plane passes through the vertex of the cone, the result is a point, a straight line, or a pair of intersecting straight lines; these are called degenerate conic sections. There are many examples of the conic sections, both in nature and in technology. The orbits of planets and satellites are elliptical, and parallel reflectors (e.g., in telescopes) are parabolic in shape.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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