In mathematics a hyperbola is a curve, specifically a smooth curve that lies in a plane, which can be defined either by its geometric properties or by the kinds of equations for which it is the solution set. A hyperbola has two pieces, called connected components or branches, which are mirror images of each other and resembling two infinite bows. The hyperbola is one of the four kinds of conic section, formed by the intersection of a plane and a cone. The other conic sections are the parabola, the ellipse, and the circle (the circle is a special case of the ellipse). Which conic section is formed depends on the angle the plane makes with the axis of the cone, compared with the angle a line on the surface of the cone makes with the axis of the cone. If the angle between the plane and the axis is less than the angle between the line on the cone and the axis, or if the plane is parallel to the axis, then the conic is a hyperbola.
Hyperbolas arise in practice in many ways: as the curve representing the function f(x) = 1 / x in the Cartesian plane, as the appearance of a circle viewed from within it, as the path followed by the shadow of the tip of a sundial, as the shape of an open orbit (as distinct from a closed and hence elliptical orbit), such as the orbit of a spacecraft during a gravity assisted swing-by of a planet or more generally any spacecraft exceeding the escape velocity of the nearest planet, as the path of a single-apparition comet (one travelling too fast to ever return to the solar system), as the scattering trajectory of a subatomic particle (acted on by repulsive instead of attractive forces but the principle is the same), and so on.
Each branch of the hyperbola consists of two arms which become straighter (lower curvature) further out from the center of the hyperbola. Diagonally opposite arms one from each branch tend in the limit to a common line, called the asymptote of those two arms. There are therefore two asymptotes, whose intersection is at the center of symmetry of the hyperbola, which can be thought of as the mirror point about which each branch reflects to form the other branch. In the case of the curve f(x) = 1 / x the asymptotes are the two coordinate axes.
Hyperbolas share many of the ellipse's analytical properties such as eccentricity, focus, and directrix. Typically the correspondence can be made with nothing more than a change of sign in some term. Many other mathematical objects have their origin in the hyperbola, such as hyperbolic paraboloids (saddle surfaces), hyperboloids ("wastebaskets"), hyperbolic geometry (Lobachevsky's celebrated non-Euclidean geometry), hyperbolic functions (sinh, cosh, tanh, etc.), and gyrovector spaces (a non-Euclidean geometry used in both relativity and quantum mechanics).
Full article ▸