Law of cosines
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|Law of Cosines|
Law of Cosines
- The law of cosines is a trigonometric extension of the Pythagorean Theorem.
Basic DescriptionThe law of cosines is a formula that helps in solving triangles when two or three side lengths of a triangle are known. The formula combines the squares of two side lengths of a triangle and some offset, classified by the cosine of a particular angle, to calculate the square of the third side. For this reason, the law of cosines is often thought of as the generalization of the Pythagorean theorem, which only applies to right triangles. The law of cosines adds an extra term to the Pythagorean theorem so that a third side length of a triangle can be determined when there is no right angle.
When to use it: SAS, SSS.
A More Mathematical Explanation
By the Pythagorean Theorem
An easy way to think of the law of cosines is as an extension of the Pythagorean theorem for a right triangle:
By Pythagorean theorem, we know
But is just some portion of side length which is less than the length of . Substituting the difference gives us,
By Pythagorean theorem, we also know that
Substituting the appropriate values gives us,
Expanding the squared term gives us
And by the definition of cosine, we know that
Substituting this value in give us
Using the Distance Formula
Let be oriented so that is at the origin, and is at the point.
is the distance from to .
Substituting the appropriate points into the distance formula gives us
Squaring the inner terms, we have
Square both sides for
Complete the triangle using the law of cosines.
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