C A
b
a
c
Right Triangle Trigonometry
for College Algebra
c
a
A = =
hypotenuse
opposite
sin
c
b
B = =
hypotenuse
opposite
sin
c
b
A = =
hypotenuse
adjacent
cos
c
a
B = =
hypotenuse
adjacent
cos
b
a
A = =
adjacent
opposite
tan
a
b
B = =
adjacent
opposite
tan
Contents
I. Background and Definitions (exercises on pages 34)
II. The Trigonometric Ratios (exercises on pages 67)
III. Applications (exercises on pages 910)
IV. The Law of Sines and Cosines and More Applications (exercises on pages 1415)
2
Terminal Side
Initial Side
Vertex
I. Background and Definitions
The word trigonometry is derived from the Greek words trigon, meaning triangle and
metry, meaning measurement. For every triangle, we can measure the sides and the
angles. We use standard linear units of measure for the sides. The measure of an angle is
defined by the amount of rotation from its initial side to its terminal side.
For angles, we will use the degree for our standard unit of measure.
One degree is the measure of an angle equivalent to a rotation of
360
1
of a
complete revolution about its vertex.
We can further subdivide one degree into minutes and seconds as follows:
) (60' minutes 60 ) 1 ( degree 1 =
) (60" seconds 60 ) (1' minute 1 =
EXAMPLE:
Express
=
+ =
+ =
+ =
+ =
+ =
EXAMPLE:
Express " 50 ' 20 40
+ + =
3
B
C
b
a
c
A
10 cm
5 cm
20 in
11 in
At this point, we should remind ourselves what we already know about right triangles,
triangles with a
90 angle.
First, we may recall that
180 = + + C B A . So if
73 . 94
(b)
15 . 15
2. Convert the following measures to degrees only.
(a) " 18 ' 19 20
(b) " 29 ' 39 149
3. For each triangle, find the unknown side.
(a) (b)
4
B
C b
a
c
A
4. Why is a circle divided into
opposite
hypotenuse
sin
1
csc = =
opposite
adjacent
tan
1
cot = =
We will focus our attention on sine, cosine, and tangent in this course, but you may find
these identities useful in subsequent courses.
At this point, we must discuss the role of calculators in our brief study of trigonometry.
Change your calculator to degree mode. To do this, press the mode button and highlight
degree if radian is currently highlighted. Now test this by entering ) 35 sin( . You should
get about 0.57358. If you got 0.42818, you are still in radian mode.
You should see three buttons labeled sin, cos, and tan. We will use these buttons to find
unknown sides, given an angle and a side of a triangle. Above these buttons, you will
find
1 1 1
tan and , cos , sin
. To use these, you will first press the 2
nd
or inverse button.
The key word here is inverse. These will undo what sin, cos, and tan do, much in
the same way that the cube root undoes what a cube does. This will allow us to find
unknown angles, given two sides of a right triangle.
6
35
5
x
7
15
12
5
13
1
2
3
6
8
15
27
C
EXAMPLE:
Find the length of the side labeled x.
SOLUTION:
104 . 6
35 cos
5
5
35 cos = =
x
x
EXAMPLE:
Find the measure of the angle labeled .
SOLUTION:
017 . 25
15
7
tan
15
7
tan
1

.

\

= =
EXERCISES:
1. In each of the right triangles below, find , cos , sin , tan , cos , sin B B A A A
and . tan B
(a) (b) A
A
B
B C
2. Find all unknown sides and angles for each of the following triangles.
This is called solving the triangle.
(a) (b)
7
42
31
2
53
angle of elevation
angle of depression
(c) (d)
III. Applications
The following problem solving approach will be helpful in solving the many application
problems of right triangle trigonometry:
Sketch a picture.
Label your sketch with all known sides and angles.
Define variables for the unknown sides and angles.
Use the Pythagorean Theorem and the trigonometric ratios to find unknown
measures.
Before we jump into some problems, we should discuss angles of elevation and angles of
depression. Suppose you see an owl perched on the branch of a tree. The angle formed
between the ground and your line of sight to the owl is called an angle of elevation.
When flying to Hawaii, you can see the Big Island in the distance. The angle formed
between the horizontal line the plane is traveling on and the line of sight down to the
island is called an angle of depression.
8
EXAMPLE:
A 100foot fire truck ladder is leaning against a wall. Find the distance the ladder goes
up the wall if it makes an angle of 43 with the ground.
SOLUTION:
First we make a helpful sketch and
label the known and unknown.
100 ft
Now,
100
43 sin
x
=
. x
43
Thus feet 2 . 68 43 sin 100 =
x .
EXAMPLE:
A surveyor is standing 42 m from the base of a redwood tree. She measures the angle of
elevation to the top of the tree as 33. Find the height of the tree.
SOLUTION:
First we make and label a sketch.
x
Now, .
42
33 tan
x
=
33
Thus 28 . 27 33 tan 42 =
x m tall. 42 m
9
EXAMPLE:
A guy wire is anchored to the ground 20 ft from the base of a telephone pole. If it is
attached to the telephone pole 30 ft above the ground, find the angle made by the guy
wire and the ground.
SOLUTION:
As usual, we first make a sketch.
Now, .
20
30
tan = 30 ft
Thus . 31 . 56
20
30
tan
1

.

\

=
20 ft
EXERCISES
1. The most powerful lighthouse is on the coast of Brittany, France, and is 50
meters tall. Suppose you are in a boat just off the coast. How far from the
base of the lighthouse are you if your angle of elevation to the light source
is 12?
2. A hot air balloon takes off from the ground and floats along an open field.
If the angle of elevation from the initial takeoff spot is 68 and the
balloon is 350 feet in the air, what is the balloons distance from its take
off spot?
3. A peregrine falcon perched atop a tall building spots its lunch on the
ground below. If the prey is 1000 m from the base of the building, and the
building is 200 m tall, what is the angle of depression from the falcon to
the prey?
4. The sonar of a navy cruiser detects a submarine that is 4000 feet from the
cruiser. The angle between the water line and the submarine is 34. How
deep is the submarine?
5. An aerial photographer is in an airplane at an altitude of 10 km and sees
two towns directly east of the plane. The angles of depression to the
towns are 25 and 60. How far apart are the two towns?
10
6. Thales, the first of the Seven Wise Men, is said to have computed the
height of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. If we were a given distance away
and knew our angle of elevation to the top, this would be a simple
trigonometric problem. This is not how Thales determined the height.
Use the internet to search out the method used by Thales.
IV. The Law of Sines and the Law of Cosines
What if we do not have a right triangle? Let us turn our attention to two other types of
triangles, acute and obtuse. Triangles with no right angle are referred to as oblique.
An acute triangle is one in which all of the
angles are less than 90.
An obtuse triangle is one in which there is
an angle greater than 90.
To solve oblique triangles, we will need to know the measure of at least one side and any
two other parts of the triangle. Here are the four possible cases:
1. Two angles and any side (AAS or ASA)
2. Two sides and an angle opposite one of them (SSA, the ambiguous case)
3. Three sides (SSS)
4. Two sides and their included angle (SAS)
The first two cases can be solved using the Law of Sines and the second two cases can be
solved using the Law of Cosines.
11
The Law of Sines
If ABC is a triangle with sides a, b, and c, then
c
c
b
b
a
a
sin sin sin
= = .
C C
b a a
b
A B B
c A c
A is acute A is obtuse
EXAMPLE (AAS):
A
For a triangle with 30 and , 27 , 130 = = = b B C
,
find the remaining angle and sides. 30
SOULUTION: c
C 130
First we make a sketch.
a 27
Note,
23 ) 27 130 ( 180 = + = A .
B
By the Law of Sines, . 82 . 25
27 sin
23 sin 30
27 sin
30
23 sin
= =
a
a
Also, . 62 . 50
27 sin
130 sin 30
27 sin
30
130 sin
= =
c
c
12
EXAMPLE (ASA):
For a triangle with 10 and , 45 , 75 = = = c B A
, A
find the measure of side a.
75
SOLUTION: 10
b
First note that
60 = C .
45
Using the Law of Sines, we have B
60 sin
10
75 sin
=
a
. a C
Thus 15 . 11
60 sin
75 sin 10
=
a .
EXAMPLE (SSA, the ambiguous case):
Consider the triangle with 3 . 7 and , 5 . 8 , 55 = = = b a B
.
Find the measure of angle A
SOLUTION:
It is unclear whether this is an acute triangle or an obtuse triangle (or if it is not possible).
We must sketch both:
C C
8.5 7.3 8.5 7.3
55 55
B A B A
Now, 0.9538
3 . 7
55 sin 5 . 8
sin
55 sin
3 . 7
sin
5 . 8
= =
A
A
.
This gives two angles
48 . 107 52 . 72 180 and 52 . 72
2 1
A A .
Both of these angles give triangles, as we do not exceed 180.
13
Let us first take the acute case,
52 . 72
1
A . Then
c .
Now we look at the obtuse case,
48 . 107
2
A . This gives
c .
Note: When the ambiguous case arises, it is possible to obtain two triangles (as above),
one triangle, or no triangle. How do you know which? Just work the problem under the
assumption that you will obtain two triangles, and the mathematics will reveal the truth.
If we have either SSS or SAS, we must use the Law of Cosines as a first step to solving a
nonright triangle. After this, we will finish with the Law of Sines, as it is a little easier
to apply.
The Law of Cosines
If ABC is a triangle with sides a, b, and c, then
+ =
+ =
+ =
C ab b a c
B ac c a b
A bc c b a
cos 2
cos 2
cos 2
2 2 2
2 2 2
2 2 2
.
Note that the Law of Cosines will be used to either find a side or its opposite angle.
EXAMPLE:
A ship travels 60 miles due east, then adjusts its course northward. After traveling 80
miles in that direction, the ship is 139 miles from its point of departure. Describe the
change in bearing from point B to point C.
SOLUTION: C
139 mi
80 mi
A
60 mi B
14
Since we do not know any of the three angles of this triangle, we must use the Law of
Cosines.
Now, B cos ) 80 )( 60 ( 2 80 60 139
2 2 2
+ = .
This gives
15 . 76 east of north.
EXERCISES
1. Sketch triangles for each of the following and solve each triangle.
(a) 10 , 8 , 6 = = = c b a
(b) 20 , 40 , 30 = = = a c A
(c) 10 , 15 , 115 = = = c b A
(d) 6 . 7 , 3 . 8 , 3 . 56 = = = b a B
(e) 72 , 25 , 55 = = = c b a
(f) 25 , 15 , 85 = = = b a A
(g) 14 , 4 , 145 = = = c b C
(h) 6 . 21 , 6 . 54 , 3 . 24 = = = c C A
2. A ranger located at station A spots a fire in the direction 32 east of north.
Another ranger, located at station B, 10 miles due east of station A, spots
the same fire on a line 48 west of north. Find the distance from each
ranger station to the fire.
3. A surveyor is attempting to find the distance between two points A and B.
A grove of trees is obstructing the view, so the surveyor sets a stake on
each side of the grove at the points A and B and then moves to a point C.
The distance from A to C is 143 feet and the distance from B to C is 123
feet. Lastly, angle ACB measures 78. Find the distance across the grove.
4. Trigonometry is used extensively in aerial photography. Suppose a
camera lens has an angular coverage of 75. As a picture is taken over
level ground, the airplanes distance is 4800 feet from a house located on
15
the edge of the photograph and the angle of elevation of the airplane from
the house is 48. Find the distance across the photograph.
5. A 10meter telephone pole casts a 17meter shadow directly down a slope
when the angle of elevation of the sun is 42. Find the angle of elevation
of the ground.
6. Because of prevailing winds, a tree grew so that it was leaning 4 from the
vertical. At a point 35 meters from the tree, the angle of elevation to the
top of the tree is 23. Find the height of the tree.
7. Suppose you are in a hot air balloon with your crew on the ground.
Attached to the balloon are two tether cords of length 200 ft and 240 ft,
which your crew has attached to the ground. You note that these cords
form an angle of 65 where they meet the balloon. Assuming these lines
are taut and the ground is level, with what angles do these cords meet the
ground?
8. To approximate the length of a marsh, a surveyor walks 250 meters from
point A to point B, then turns 75 and walks 220 meters to point C.
Approximate the length AC of the marsh.
9. A 100foot vertical tower is to be erected on the side of a hill that makes a
6 angle with the horizontal. Find the length of each of the two guy wires
that will be anchored 75 feet uphill and downhill from the base of the
tower.
10. The baseball player in center field is playing approximately 330 feet from
the television camera that is behind home plate. A batter hits a fly ball
that goes to the wall 420 feet from the camera. Approximate the number
of feet that the center fielder has to run to make the catch if the camera
turns 8 to follow the play.
(Note: Be very careful sketching pictures for these problems. There may be more than
one interpretation for a couple of them; solve them all!)