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Circle of Apallonius

Circle of Apallonius

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Published by: William Tanksley, Jr on Mar 07, 2007
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01/01/2013

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Spatial Localization Problem and the Circle of Apollonius.
 
Joseph Cox
1
, Michael B. Partensky
2
The Circle of Apollonius is named after the ancient geometrician Apollonius of Perga. This beautifulgeometric construct can be helpful when solving some general problems of mathematical physics, optics andelectricity. Here we discuss its applications to the “source localization” problems, e.g., pinpointing aradioactive source using the set of Geiger counters. The Circles of Apollonius help analyze these problemsin transparent and intuitive manner. This discussion can be useful for High School Physics and Mathcurriculums.
1. Introduction
We will discuss a class of problems where theposition of an object is determined based on theanalysis of some “physical signals” related to itslocation. First, we pose an entertaining problemthat helps trigger the students’ interest in thesubject. Analyzing this problem. we introduce theCircles of Apollonius, and show that thisgeomteric trick allows solving the problem in anellegant and transparent way. At the same time ,we demonstrate that the solution of the “reverseproblem” of localizing an object based on thereadings from the detectors, can be nonunique.This ambiguity is further discussed for a typical“source localization” problem, such aspinpointing a radioctive source with a set of detectors. It is shown for the planar problem thatthe “false source” is the inverse point of the realone relative to the Circle of Apollonius passingthrough the set of three detectors. Thisobservations provides an insight leading to anunambiguoys pinpointing of the source.
2. Apollonius of Perga helps to saveSam
Description of the problem
Bartholomew the Frog with Precision HoppingAbility could hop anywhere in the world with athought and a leap [1]. Publicly, he was a retiredtrack and field star. Privately, he used his talent tohelp save the world. You see, Bartholomew hadbecome a secret agent, a spy - a spook. In fact,only two people in the whole world knew whoBartholomew really was. One was Sam theElephant and the other was Short Eddy, afourteen-year-old kid who did not have a wholelot of normal friends but was superb in math andscience. One day an evil villain Hrindar platypuskidnapped Sam the Elephant. Bartholomew, assoon as he realized Sam was missing, hoppedstraight "to Sam the Elephant." When he gotthere, he was shocked to see Sam chained to aship anchored in the ocean. As soon as Sam saw
1
Stream Consulting, Rialto Tower, Melbourne, Victoria 3000 Australiaemail: joseph.jcox@gmail.com
2
Brandeis University, Rabb School of Continuing studies and Dept. of Chemistry, Waltham, MA, USAemail:partensky@gmail.com
 
Bartholomew he knew he was going to be okay.He quickly and quietly whispered, "Bartholomew,I don’t exactly know where we are, but it issomewhere near Landport, Maine." It was dark out and Bartholomew could hardly see anythingbut the blurred outline of the city on his left, andthe lights from three lighthouses. Two of them,say A and B, were on land, while the third one, C,was positioned on the large island
.
Using thephotometer from his spy tool kit, Bartholomewfound that the corresponding brightnesses were inproportion 9:4:1. He hopped to Eddy and told himwhat was up. Eddy immediately Googled the mapof the area surrounding Landport that showedthree lighthouses (see Fig. 1). ABC turned to be aright triangle, with its legs |AB|=1.5 miles and|AC|=2 miles. The accompanying descriptionasserted that the lanterns on all the lighthouseswere the same. In a few minutes the friends knewthe location of the boat, and in another half anhour, still under cower of the night, a group of commandos released Sam and captured thevillain.
The question is, how did the friendsmanage to find the position of the boat 
 
Discussion and solution
Being the best math and science student in hisclass, Eddy immediately figured out that the ratioof the apparent brightness could be transformed inthe ratio of the distances. According to
the inverse square law
, the apparent brightness (intensity,luminance) of a point light source (a reasonableapproximation when the dimensions of the sourceare small comparative to the distance
from it) isproportional to
2
 / 
 P 
, where
 P 
is the power of the source . Given that all lanterns have equalpower
 P 
, the ratio of the distances between theboat ("S" for Sam) and the lighthouses is|SA|:|SB|:|SC|=1:2:3. Eddy always tried to break acomplex problem into smaller parts. Therefore, hedecided to focus on the two lighthouses, A and
 B
,first.
 
Apparently
 ,
 
is one of 
all possible points P 
 two times more distant from
 B
than from
 A
:
 
2 / 1|| / |||
=
 PB PA
.
This observation immediatelyreminded Eddy of 
 
something that had beendiscussed in the AP geometry class. That time hewas very surprised to learn that in addition tobeing the locus of points
equally distant from acenter 
, a circle can also be defined
as a locus of  points whose distances to two fixed points A and  B are in a constant ratio
. Eddy rushed to open hislecture notes and... Here it was! The notes read:"Circle of Apollonius ... is the locus of points
 P 
 whose distances to two fixed points
 A
and
 B
arein a constant ratio
1:
γ  
.
γ  
=
||||
 PB PA
(1)For convenience, draw the x-axis through thepoints A and B. It is a good exercise in algebraand geometry (see the Appendix) to prove that theradius of this circle is|1|||
20
=
γ  γ  
 AB R
(2)and its center is at1
22
=
γ  γ  
 A BO
 x x x
(3)The examples of the Apollonius circles with thefixed points
 A
and
 B
corresponding to differentvalues of 
γ  
are shown in Fig. 2. Interestingly,the Apollonius circle defined by the Eq. 1 is theinversion circle [3] for the points
 A
and
 B:
 )4()()(
2
OO BO A
 R x x x x
=
 
This result immediately follows from the
Eqs. 2and 3. (
Apollonius of Perga [240-190 b.c.e.] wasknown to contemporaries as “The GreatGeometer”. Among his other achievements is thefamous book “Conics” where he introduced suchcommonly used terms as parabola, ellipse andhyperbola [2])”.Equipped with this information, Eddy was able todraw the Apollonius circle
1
 L
for the points
 A
 and
 B
, satisfying the condition
γ  
=1/2 (Fig. 3).Given |
 AB
|=1.5 and Eq.2, he found that the radiusof this circle 1
1
=
 R
mile. Using Eq. 3, he alsofound that
mile x x
 AO
5.0
=
which impliesthat the center O of the circle
1
 L
is half a mile tothe south from A. In the same manner Eddy builtthe Apollonius circle
2
 L
for the points
 A
and
,corresponding to the ratio
γ  
=|PA|/|PC|=1/3. Itsradius is 75.0
2
=
 R
miles and the center
Q
is0.25 miles to the West from
 A
. Eddy put bothcircles on the map. Bartholomew was watchinghim, and holding his breath. "I got it!"- hesuddenly shouted. "Sam must be located in thepoint that belongs simultaneously to both circles,i.e. right in their intersection. Only in this pointhis distance to
 A
will be 2 times smaller than thedistance to
 B
and at the same time 3 times smallerthan the distance to
". "Exactly!"- respondedEddy, and he drew two dots, grey and orange.Now his friend was confused: "If there are twopossible points, how are we supposed to knowwhich one is the boat?" "That’s easy"- Eddysmiled joyfully- "The grey dot is far inland whichleaves us with only one possible location!”. AndEddy drew a large bold "S" right next to theorange dot. Now it was peanuts to discover thatthe boat with poor Big Sam was anchoredapproximately 0.35 mile East and 0.45 mile Northfrom A. Bartholomew immediately delivered thisinformation to the commandos, and soon Big Samwas released. Once again, the knowledge of physics and math turned out to be very handy.
3. The question of ambiguity in somesource localization problems
 
Our friends have noticed that the solution of theirproblem was not unique. The issue was luckilyresolved, however, because the “fictitious”location happened to be inland. In general, suchan ambiguity can cause a problem. Had both theintersection points appeared in the ocean, theevil villain could have escaped.How to prevent this from happening?We address this question using a more commonsetting. In the previous discussion a measuringtool, the photo detector, was positioned right onthe object (the boat) while the physical signalsused to pinpoint the boat were produced by thelight projectors. More commonly, the signal isproduced by the searched object itself, and it isread by the detectors located in known positions.The practical examples are a radioactive sourcewhose position must be determined using the“Geiger counters” or a light source detected bythe light sensors. Assuming that the source anddetectors are positioned in the same plane, thereare three unknown parameters in the problem:two coordinates and the intensity of the source
 P 
.One can suggest that using three detectors shouldbe sufficient for finding all the unknowns. Thecorresponding solution, however, will not be

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