parabola (pərăbˈələ) [key], plane curve consisting of all points equidistant from a given fixed point (focus) and a given fixed line (directrix) (see illustration). It is the conic section cut by a plane parallel to one of the elements of the cone. The axis of a parabola is the line through the focus perpendicular to the directrix. The vertex is the point at which the axis intersects the curve. The latus rectum is the chord through the focus perpendicular to the axis. Examples of this curve are the path of a projectile and the shape of the cross section of a parallel beam reflector.