Study Guide for Polar Coordinates - Pre-Calculus

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Study Guide for Polar Coordinates - Pre-Calculus

© All Rights Reserved

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In a rectangular coordinate system, we were plotting points based on an ordered pair of (x, y). In

the polar coordinate system, the ordered pair will now be (r, ). The ordered pair specifies a

points location based on the value of r and the angle, , from the polar axis.

The value of r can be positive, negative, or zero. The sign of r is very important in locating the

exact position of the point. The absolute value of r, |r|, is the distance between the point and the

pole.

1. If r is positive (r > 0) then the point lies on the terminal side of

2. If r is negative (r < 0) then the point lies on the ray opposite of the terminal side of

3. If r is zero (r = 0) then the point lies at the pole regardless of

r>0

r<0

r=0

a) (-3, 135)

b) (2, -

c) (4, 405)

Solution:

One big difference between polar and rectangular coordinates is that polar coordinates can have

multiple coordinates representing the same point by adjusting the angle or the sign of r and the

angle .

Add a multiple of to the angle and change r to r

conditions.

r is negative and 0 < < 2

Solution:

Change r to r and add to the angle

(3,

) = (-3,

+ )

4

5

= (-3,

)

4

Since the polar axis coincides with the x-axis and the pole coincides with the origin, a

relationship can be established between the polar coordinates and the rectangular coordinates for

a point.

By forming a right triangle, we can use the definitions of the trigonometric functions to establish

the relationship between the two sets of ordered pairs.

y

r

r sin = y

sin =

x

r

r cos = x

cos =

tan =

y

x

The Pythagorean Theorem can also be used to establish a relationship between x, y, and r.

a2 + b2 = c2

x2 + y2 = r2

2

) into rectangular coordinates.

3

Solution:

Plot the polar coordinates

This is not a necessary step but it will provide you with an idea of what should

be the rectangular coordinates.

From the graph, we can see that the point is in the fourth quadrant making the x

coordinate positive and the y coordinate negative. The rectangular coordinates

would be approximately (4, -7).

Find x

x = r cos

2

3

1

x = (-8) (- )

2

x=4

x = -8 cos

Example 3 (Continued):

Find y

y = r sin

2

3

3

y = (-8) (

)

2

y = -4 3

y = -8 sin

Example 4: Convert the rectangular coordinates (3, -3) into polar coordinates with r > 0 and

0 < 2.

Solution:

Plot the rectangular coordinates

From the graph, we can see that the point is in the fourth quadrant.

Example 4 (Continued):

Find r

r = x2 + y 2

r = (3) 2 + (3) 2

r = 9+9

r = 18

r =3 2

Find

y

x

3

tan =

3

tan = 1

tan =

4

angle for 2 to get the measurement of

tan

= 2

7

=

4

7

).

4

The relationships that have been established between the polar and rectangular coordinate

systems can also be used in converting a polar equation into rectangular form or converting a

rectangular equation into polar form. The next two examples will demonstrate how this is done.

Example 5: Convert the rectangular equation x2 + y2 = 100 into a polar equation that expresses r

in terms of .

Solution:

Substitute x and y with their polar equivalents

x = r cos and y = r sin

x2 + y2 = 100

(r cos )2 + (r sin )2 = 100

Solve for r

r2 cos2 + r2 sin2 = 100

r2 (cos2 + sin2 ) = 100

r2 (1) = 100

r2 = 100

r = 10

apply Pythagorean identity cos2 + sin2 = 1

Example 6: Convert the polar equation 4r cos + r sin = 8 into a rectangular equation that

expresses y in terms of x.

Solution:

Substitute r cos and r sin with their rectangular equivalents

4r cos + r sin = 8

4(x) + (y) = 8

Solve for y

4x + y = 8

y = 8 4x

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