A parabolic (or paraboloid or paraboloidal) reflector (or dish or mirror) is a reflective surface used to collect or project energy such as light, sound, or radio waves. Its shape is part of a circular paraboloid, that is, the surface generated by a parabola revolving around its axis. The parabolic reflector transforms an incoming plane wave traveling along the axis into a spherical wave converging toward the focus. Conversely, a spherical wave generated by a point source placed in the focus is reflected into a plane wave propagating as a collimated beam along the axis.
Parabolic reflectors are used to collect energy from a distant source (for example sound waves or incoming star light). Since the principles of reflection are reversible, parabolic reflectors can also be used to collimate radiation from an isotropic source into a parallel beam. In optics, parabolic mirrors are used to gather light in reflecting telescopes and solar furnaces, and project a beam of light in flashlights, searchlights, stage spotlights, and car headlights. In radio parabolic antennas are used to radiate a narrow beam of radio waves for point-to-point communications in satellite dishes and microwave relay stations, and to locate aircraft, ships, and vehicles in radar sets. In acoustics, parabolic microphones are used to record faraway sounds such as bird calls, in sports reporting, and to eavesdrop on private conversations in espionage and law enforcement.