hyperbola hīpûr´bələ [key], plane curve consisting of all points such that the difference between the distances from any point on the curve to two fixed points (foci) is the same for all points. It is the conic section formed by a plane cutting both nappes of the cone; it thus has two parts, or branches. The center of a hyperbola is the point halfway between its foci. The principal axis is the straight line through the foci. The vertices are the intersection of this axis with the curve. The transverse axis is the line segment joining the two vertices. The latus rectum is the chord through either focus perpendicular to the principal axis. The asymptotes are lines, in the same plane, which the curve approaches as it approaches infinity. An equilateral, or rectangular, hyperbola is one whose asymptotes are perpendicular. A second hyperbola may be drawn whose asymptotes are identical with those of the given hyperbola and whose principal axis is a perpendicular line through the center; the two hyperbolas thus related are called conjugate.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Mathematics