Parabola
Pronunciation: /pərˈæ.bə.lə/ Explain
 Figure 1: Parabola from a conic section. 
In manipulative 1, click on the purple focus, the red point on the directrix, and the blue point on the parabola and drag them change the figure.
How is the parabola different if the focus and directrix are close together as opposed to far apart? How does the parabola change if the focus is moved to the left or to the right? Click on the blue point on the parabola and drag it. Notice that the length of the two black lines remains equal. Why do these values remain equal?
 Manipulative 1  Parabola Created with GeoGebra. 
A parabola is the shape made when graphing a
quadratic equation.
A parabola can also be described as a
conic section
formed by
intersecting
a right circular conic surface with a plane parallel to the generator of the cone.
A parabola can also be defined as all
points in a plane
equidistant
from a line, called the directrix, and a point,
called the focus, not on the line. Every
parabola also has a
vertex
and a
axis of symmetry.

Parts of a Parabola
Click on the points and drag them to change the figure.
 Manipulative 2  Parabola Created with GeoGebra. 
The vertex of a parabola is at the inflection point of the parabola. The inflection
point is the point where the parabolic curve changes direction. In manipulative 2,
the vertex is hot pink. The vertex can not be dragged in this manipulative, because the
vertex is dependent upon the focus and directrix.
The distance from the focus to any point on the parabola is the same as the distance
from that point to the directrix.

Click on the points on the slider and drag them to change the equation. Click on the blue point and drag it to move it on the figure.
Can you change the variables so that the parabola points left?
 Manipulative 3  Parabola as Conic Section Created with GeoGebra. 
The conic section form of a parabolic equation is
Ax^{2} + Bxy +
Cy^{2} + Dx + Ey + F = 0
where B^{2} = 4AC and either
A ≠ 0 or
C ≠ 0.
This form allows one to draw parabolas where the directrix is not parallel to the
xaxis or yaxis. The sliders in manipulative 6 allow you to change the figure.
Note that for some values of A through
F, the parabola will be out of the display
area of the graph. Also, both A and
C must be either negative or positive or
the equation is undefined.

Parabolas in the Physical World
 Figure 2: A bouncing ball captured with a stroboscopic flash at 25 images per second. 
The best known physical example of a parabola is a ball in free flight. Once the
baseball leaves contact with the bat, the trajectory of a baseball hit by a batter
closely follows a parabolic path. Another example, shown in figure 2, is a basketball
bouncing on a hard floor. Each bounce approximates a parabola. The physical factors
that keep it from being a perfect parabola are the deformation of the ball during the
bounce and air resistance.
 Figure 3: A rotating liquid approximates a parabola. 
A lesser known example of a parabola is a rotating liquid. Figure 3 shows a rotating
liquid with the interior of the parabola colored orange.

Parabolic Reflector
 Figure 4: A flashlight throwing a focused beam. 
Another common use of a parabola is a parabolic reflector, used in automobile
headlights, flashlights and spotlights, also called searchlights. Figure 3 shows
the focused beam a flashlight produces using a parabolic reflector.
Click on the blue point and drag it to change the figure.
 Manipulative 4  Parabolic Reflector Created with GeoGebra. 
When light reflects from a surface, the angle of reflection is twice the angle
between the light ray and the normal to the surface. Manipulative 4 shows a blue
line that is normal to the surface of the parabola, and how the light beam, shown
in green, would reflect off of the surface. Click on
the red point on the directrix and the purple focus to change the image.
Discovery
 If you wanted to make two searchlights, one with a narrow beam and one with a
broad beam, would the focus be closer to the directrix for a narrow beam or a
broad beam. Why?

References
 McAdams, David E.. All Math Words Dictionary, parabola. 2nd Classroom edition 201501084799968. pg 134. Life is a Story Problem LLC. January 8, 2015. Buy the book
Cite this article as:
McAdams, David E. Parabola. 4/27/2019. All Math Words Encyclopedia. Life is a Story Problem LLC. http://www.allmathwords.org/en/p/parabola.html.
Image Credits
Revision History
4/27/2019: Changed equations and expressions to new format. (
McAdams, David E.)
12/21/2018: Reviewed and corrected IPA pronunication. (
McAdams, David E.)
12/1/2018: Removed broken links, updated license, implemented new markup, updated geogebra app. (
McAdams, David E.)
8/7/2018: Changed vocabulary links to WORDLINK format. (
McAdams, David E.)
1/7/2010: Added "References". (
McAdams, David E.)
2/10/2009: Simplified primary definition. (
McAdams, David E.)
10/13/2008: Initial version. (
McAdams, David E.)