What Are Real Life Examples of Conic Sections?

Rune Johansen/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Some real-life examples of conic sections are the Tycho Brahe Planetarium in Copenhagen, which reveals an ellipse in cross-section, and the fountains of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, which comprise a parabolic chorus line, according to Jill Britton, a mathematics instructor at Camosun College. The conics curves include the ellipse, parabola and hyperbola.

The ellipse is the most common conic curve frequently seen in everyday life because each circle appears elliptical when viewed obliquely, states Britton. For example, the surface of water in a glass obtains an elliptical outline when the glass is tilted. Salami is usually cut obliquely to acquire elliptical slices. The orbits of the earth’s artificial satellites and the moon are elliptical as well as the paths of comets that permanently orbit the sun. Another elliptic structure is the Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capital building. An elliptical billiard table demonstrates the ability of the ellipse to rebound an object beginning from one focus to another, causing a ball to rebound to the other focus when positioned at a certain focus and thrust with a cue stick.

A real-life example of a parabola is a baseball being hit into the air and following a parabolic path, explains Britton. The center of gravity of a jumping porpoise also describes a parabola.