Introduction to the Hyperbola

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Locate a hyperbola‚Äôs vertices and foci.
  • Write equations of hyperbolas in standard form.
  • Graph hyperbolas centered at the origin.
  • Graph hyperbolas not centered at the origin.
  • Solve applied problems involving hyperbolas.

What do paths of comets, supersonic booms, ancient Grecian pillars, and natural draft cooling towers have in common? They can all be modeled by the same type of conic. For instance, when something moves faster than the speed of sound, a shock wave in the form of a cone is created. A portion of a conic is formed when the wave intersects the ground, resulting in a sonic boom.

Figure 1

A shock wave intersecting the ground forms a portion of a conic and results in a sonic boom.

Most people are familiar with the sonic boom created by supersonic aircraft, but humans were breaking the sound barrier long before the first supersonic flight. The crack of a whip occurs because the tip is exceeding the speed of sound. The bullets shot from many firearms also break the sound barrier, although the bang of the gun usually supersedes the sound of the sonic boom.