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Plotting Conic Sections

Keywords: Central Forces, Orbits, Conic Sections, Mathematica, Maple, Computer Visualization


Highlights of the activity

  1. This computer visualization activity is designed to help students visualize various plots of conic sections in polar coordinates.
  2. Students use a Maple Worksheet or a Mathematica Notebook to generate polar plots of orbits while exploring the parameter space of the orbits.
  3. The whole class wrap-up discussion addresses how the shape of the orbits depend on a variety of geometric parameters.

Reasons to spend class time on the activity

  1. Students learn about how polar plots are generated
  2. Students become familiar with the equations for conic sections in polar form
  3. Students learn to explore parameter space and develop experience with how various terms in the equation affect the shape of the plot
  4. Students learn how to use Maple or Mathematica to generate a polar plot

This activity works particularly well when sequenced with other activities.


Instructor's Guide

Student Handouts



Maple Worksheet (Maple 13)

cfconics.mws (Maple 11 Classic)

Mathematica Notebook


Authors: Corinne Manogue, Elizabeth Gire
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