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FORUM GEOM

ISSN 1534-1178

Abstract. This article presents a result on circles tangent to a given conic section

and to each other. The result is proved using a set of parameterizations that cover

all possible scenarios.

1. Introduction

The objective of this article is to establish the following.

Theorem 1. Suppose S is a conic section (of eccentricity 12 if it is an ellipse)

There exists a set S , which is either a conic section or a union of two conic sec-

tions, with the following property. For two circles P and Q each tangent to S at

two points, and to each other externally (at a point not on S if S is a hyperbola),

the centers of the two circles R1 and R2 that are also tangent externally to P and

Q and tangent to S lie on S .

For other problems involving tangent circles, see [1, 2, 3, 4].

The proof of Theorem 1 is based on explicit parameterizations of P , Q and R1 ,

given S. (It is not necessary to check R2 separately, because of symmetry.) In each

case, the proposed set S is clearly either a conic section or a union of two conic

sections, as claimed, but the following conditions also need to be verified:

(a) The proposed point of tangency between any circle (among P , Q and R1 )

and S lies on S.

(b) The proposed center of R1 lies on the proposed curve (i.e., S , or one of its

components).

(c) The distance between the proposed center of any circle and the correspond-

ing proposed point of tangency with S is equal to the proposed radius.

(d) The line segment from the proposed center of any circle to the correspond-

ing proposed point of tangency with S is normal to S.

(e) The distance between the proposed centers of two mutually tangent circles

is equal to the sum of their proposed radii.

Verifying conditions (c) and (e) is generally done by setting x and y to be the

differences between the proposed x- and y-coordinates respectively for the points

in question, and z to be the proposed distance (i.e., the radius or the sum of the

2 J. K. Haugland

x2 + y 2 = z 2 (1)

is satisfied.

The notation with x and y is also used when verifying condition (d).

2. Ellipse

2.1. Parameterization. For the ellipse S:

x 2 y 2 a

+ = 1, 2,

a b b

S is the ellipse

x 2 y 2

+ =1

a b

where

1 a

a = a + a2 b2 and b = b a a2 b2 .

2 2b

With parameters and u satisfying

b

sin = , 0< ,

a 4

2 u 2,

we define three circles P , Q, R1 with centers and radii given below, and verify that

their points of tangency with S are as in the rightmost column (see Figure 1).

2

cos(u) cos(u)

P a2 b2 cos (u ) , 0 b sin (u ) a cos , b 1 cos

2

Q a2 b2 cos (u + ) , 0 b sin (u + ) a cos(u+)

cos , b 1

cos(u+)

cos

cos u

cos u 2 cos u

cos u 2

R1 a cos , b 1 cos (b b ) sin u a cos , b 1 cos

A note on conic sections and tangent circles 3

(c) For P or Q, we have

x2 + y 2

2a a 2 b2 a 2 cos2 (u )

2 2 2 2

= a b + cos (u ) + b 1

cos cos2 cos2

2

a 2 b2

= b2 1 cos2 (u ) + cos2 (u ) a

cos

= b2 sin2 (u ) = z 2 .

For R1 , we have

x2 + y 2

1 2 cos2 u a2 2

cos2 u

= a a2 b2 + a a 2 b2 1

4 cos2 4b2 cos2

1 2 a2 a2 b2 cos2 u

= a a2 b2

4 b2 b2 cos2

a2 2

= 2

a a 2 b2 1 cos2 u

4b

2

= b b sin2 u = z 2 .

2

(d) The slope of the tangent of S at the point (x, y) is ab 2xy , as can be shown with

basic calculus. For P or Q, taking the point of tangency with positive y-coordinate,

we have

2 2

b 1 cos(u) b 1 cos(u)

y cos cos a2 y

= = = .

x a 2 2 cos (u ) a a2 b2 b2 x

cos a b cos a cos cos (u )

For R1 , we have

cos u 2 cos u 2

y b b 1 cos a 1 cos a2 y

= cos u = cos u = 2 .

x a a cos b cos b x

a2 b2 (cos (u ) cos (u + )) = a2 b2 (2 sin u sin )

= b (2 sin u cos ) = b (sin (u ) + sin (u + )) ,

4 J. K. Haugland

y and z are as follows:

cos u 2

2 1

x = a2 b2 cos (u ) a + a2 b2

2 cos

cos u 2

1

= a2 b2 (cos u cos sin u sin ) a + a2 b2

2 cos

2 2

2 2 2 2

= a b cos u cos + sin u sin 2 sin u cos u sin cos

1 2 2 2 2

cos2 u

+ 2a b + 2a a b

4 cos2

2 2 2 sin u cos u sin

a b + a a2 b2 cos u ,

cos

2

2 a2 a a2 b2 cos2 u

y = b + 1

2b 2b cos2

2a4 a2 b2 a 3 a2 b2 cos2 u

2 2 2 b2

= b + a + a a 1 ,

4b2 2b2 cos2

a 2

z 2 = b sin (u ) + a a2 b2 sin u

2b

a 2

= b (sin u cos cos u sin ) + a a2 b2 sin u

2b

= b2 sin2 u cos2 + b2 cos2 u sin2 2b2 sin u cos u sin cos

4

2a a2 b2 sin2 u a3 a2 b2 sin2 u

+

4b2 2b2

+ a a a2 b2 sin2 u cos sin u cos u sin .

The reader can verify that when we insert these expressions into (1) the terms

with or cancel out, while collecting the remaining terms yields

sin2 u + cos2 u = ,

where

2a4 5a2 b2 + 4b4 + 2a a2 + 2b2 a2 b2

= ,

4b2

which of course also implies cancellation.

3. Parabola

3.1. Parameterization. For the parabola S:

y = cx2 ,

S is the parabola

2

4x 1

y=c + .

3 8c

A note on conic sections and tangent circles 5

verify that the points of tangency with S are as given in the rightmost column (see

Figure 2).

Center

Radius Point

of tangency with S

P 0, cu 2u+ 1 1

u 2c u 2 u , cu2 u

2c

1

1

c

Q 0, cu2 + u + 2c u + 2c u2 + uc , cu2 + u

3

R1 4 u2 4c12 , cu2 1

8c

u

4 u 2 1 , cu2 1

4c2 4c

3.2.Verification. (a) Trivial, since all proposed points of tangency have the form

( m, cm).

(b) With x = 34 u2 4c12 , we have

2

4x 1 1 1 1

y=c + = c u2 2 + = cu2

3 8c 4c 8c 8c

as required.

(c) For P or Q, we have

2

2 2 2 u 1 1 2

x + y = u + = u = z 2 .

c 2c 2c

For R1 , we have

2

2 2 1 2 1 1 u 2

x + y = u 2 + = = z 2 .

16 4c 8c 4

(d) The slope of the tangent of S at the point ( m, cm) is 2c m, and so the

slope of the line segment from the center of the corresponding circle to the point

6 J. K. Haugland

1

of tangency must be 2c m

. For P and Q and taking the point of tangency with

positive x-coordinate, we have trivially

1

y 2c 1

= = ,

x m 2c m

and for R1 we have almost equally trivially

y 1 1

= 1 8c = .

x 4 m

2c m

(e) The distance between the proposed centers of P and Q is 2u, which is equal

to the sum of their radii. If we instead consider P or Q along with R1 , we have

2 2 9 2 1 5 2

x + y = u 2 + u

16 4c 8c

25 2 5u 1 5 1 2

= u + 2 = u = z 2 .

16 4c 4c 4 2c

4. Hyperbola

4.1. Parameterization. For the hyperbola S:

x 2 y 2

= 1.

a b

S is the union of two hyperbolas S1 and S2 . The first component of S is the

hyperbola S1

x 2 y 2

= 1,

a b

where

1 a

a = a + a2 + b2 , b = b + a a2 + b2 .

2 2b

2b

With parameter u a , we define the circles P , Q, R1

Center

2 2 Radius

a +b b 2 2

P 2 (a2+ b2 ) u 2

+ a2

bu , 0 2 a + b u b (a 2 + b2 ) u 2 + a 2

2a 2 a

a +b b

Q a2 (a2 + b2 ) u2 + a2 + bu , 0 a2 a2 + b2 u + b (a2 + b2 ) u2 + a2

2

2 2

R1 a u2 + a2a+b2 , b u2 a2b+b2 u 2

2b a + b a a + b

2 2

and verify that the points of tangency with S are as follows (see Figure 3).

Point

of tangency with S

2

b

P (a2 + b2 ) u2 + a2 bu, a (a2 + b2 ) u2 + a2 bu a2

2

Q (a2 + b2 ) u2 + a2 + bu, ab (a2 + b2 ) u2 + a2 + bu a2

a2 2

R1 a u + a2 +b2 , b u2 a2b+b2

2

A note on conic sections and tangent circles 7

x 2 y 2

= 1,

a b

where

b 1

a = a + b a2 + b2 , b = b + a2 + b2 .

2a 2

With parameter u b , we define the circles P , Q, R1

a2 +b2

Center

2 2 Radius

P 0, a b+b

2 (a2 + b2 ) u2 b2 au a

b2 a2 + b2 u a (a2 + b2 ) u2 b2

2 2

Q 0, a b+b

2 (a2 + b2 ) u2 b2 + au a

b 2 a 2

+ b 2

u + a (a 2 + b2 ) u 2 b2

2

2 2

R1 a u2 + a2a+b2 , b u2 a2b+b2 u 2

2a a + b b a + b

2 2

and verify that the points of tangency with S are as follows (see Figure 4).

Point

of tangency with S

2

P ab (a2 + b2 ) u2 b2 au + b2 , (a2 + b2 ) u2 b2 au

2

Q ab (a2 + b2 ) u2 b2 + au + b2 , (a2 + b2 ) u2 b2 + au

2 2

R1 a u2 + a2a+b2 , b u2 a2b+b2

8 J. K. Haugland

of S , both P and Q have proposed

points of tangency with S of the form m, ab m2 a2 .

Forthe second component,

they have proposed points of tangency of the form

a 2 2

b m + b ,m .

2 2

In both cases, it is clear that xa yb = 1 is satisfied. For R1 , we get in

both cases

x 2 y 2 a2 b2

= + = 1.

a b a2 + b2 a2 + b2

x 2 y 2

a2 b2

=

+ = 1,

a b a2 + b2 a2 + b2

x 2 y 2 a2 b2

= + = 1.

a b a2 + b2 a2 + b2

(c) For P and Q with the first component S1 , starting with the proposed center

and points of tangency with S for P or Q, we have

A note on conic sections and tangent circles 9

x2 + y 2

b4 2 2 b2

2

= 4 (a + b2 ) u2 + a2 bu + 2 (a2 + b2 ) u2 + a2 bu a2

a a

2

2

b

= 4 a 2 + b2 a + b2 u2 + a2 + b2 u2 2bu (a2 + b2 ) u2 + a2 a4

a

b2 2

= 4 a2 + b2 u b (a2 + b2 ) u2 + a2 = z 2 .

a

For R1 , we have

x2 + y 2

2 a2 2 b2

= (a a ) u2 + + (b b ) u 2

a 2 + b2 a 2 + b2

2

1

2 2

2

2 a2 a2

2 2 2 b2

= a + a + b u + 2 + 2 a + a + b u 2

4 a + b2 4b a + b2

2

1 2 2

2

2

2

a u 2

1 2 2

u 2 2

= a + a + b u + 2 = a + a + b a +b

4 b 2 b

u 2

= a 2 + b2 a a 2 + b2 = z 2 .

2b

x2 + y 2

a 2 2 2 a 4 2 2

= 2 (a + b2 ) u2 b2 au + b2 + 4 (a + b2 ) u2 b2 au

b b

2

a

= 4 a 2 + b2 a2 + b2 u2 b2 + a2 u2 2au (a2 + b2 ) u2 b2 + b4

b

a 2 2 2

= 4 a + b2 u a (a2 + b2 ) u2 b2 = z 2 ,

b

x2 + y 2

2 a2 2 b2

= (a a ) u2 + + (b b ) u 2

a 2 + b2 a 2 + b2

2

b2

2 + b2

2

2 a2 1

2 + b2 2 b2

= b + a u + + b + a u

4a2 a 2 + b2 4 a 2 + b2

1 2 b2 u 2

= b + a2 + b2 u2 + 2

4 a

2

1 u 2

= b + a2 + b2 a + b2

2 a

u 2

= a 2 + b2 b a 2 + b2 = z 2 .

2a

10 J. K. Haugland

2

(d) The slope of the tangent of S at the point (x, y) is ab 2xy , and so the slope of

the line segment from the center of the corresponding circle to its point of tangency

2

(x, y) with S must be ab2 xy . For P or Q for the verification for the first component

of S , taking the point of tangency with positive y-coordinate, we have

2

b

(a 2 + b2 ) u2 + a2 bu a2

y a a2 y

= 2 = 2 .

x ab 2 (a2 + b2 ) u2 + a2 bu b x

For R1 , we have

(b b )

u 2 b2 a

2

u2 a2b+b2

y 2

a +b 2 a2 y

= = = 2 .

x 2

(a a ) u2 + a2a+b2

2

b u2 + a2a+b2 b x

For the verification for the second component of S , taking the point of tangency

with positive x-coordinate for P or Q, we have similarly

2

a 2 + b2 ) u2 b2 au

y b 2 (a a2 y

= 2 = ,

x a

b2 x

2 2 2 2

(a + b ) u b au + b 2

b

b2 2

y (b b )

2

u a2 +b2 a u2 a2b+b2 a2 y

= = = 2 .

x 2

(a a ) u2 + a2a+b2

2

b u2 + a2a+b2 b x

(e) Verifying the condition for P and Q is rather trivial for both components of

S . For P or Q along with R1 , with the first component, we have

x2

2

a 2 + b2 2

3

1 a 2 a 2

+ b 2

= a + a 2 + b2 u 2 + 2 bu

a2 2 a + b2 a2

3 2 3 2 2

a 2 + b2 2a 2

+ b 2 a + b2 2 a + b2 a a2

= + + 2

a +b 2 2

u + 2

a4 4 a a2 2 a + b2

2 2 3

a + b 2 b2 u 2 a 2 + b2 2 a a 2 + b2 bu a2 + b2

+ 2 2 2

(a + b ) u + a 2 2 ,

a4 a2 2 2 a2

A note on conic sections and tangent circles 11

2 2

a2 2 2

2 b2

y = b + a a + a2 b2

+ 2 2a + b 2a a + b 2 2 u 2 ,

4b a + b2

2

u b

z 2 = a2 + b2 a a2 + b2 + 2 a2 + b2 u b (a2 + b2 ) u2 + a2

2b a

2

2 2 2 2 2

2 2

2

a +b u a u a +b b2 u 2 a 2 + b 2 b4 a 2 + b 2 u 2 + a 2

= + + +

4b2 4b2 a4 a4

2

au2 a2 + b2 a 2 + b2 u 2 a 2 + b2 u 2 a 2 + b2 a 2 + b2

2

+ 2

2b

a a

bu 2 2b 2

2 a + b2 a 2 + b2 a + 2 a 2 + b2 ,

a a

Likewise, for the second component of S , we have

2

b2 b a 2 + b2 a2

x2 = a+ 2

u + 2

2a 2a a + b2

a2 b2 + 2b4 b3 a 2 + b 2 a2

2 2 2 2 2

= a + + b b a + b u + ,

4a2 2a2 a 2 + b2

3 2 2

a 2 + b2 2 b a 2 + b2 b 2 au a + b 2

y 2 = u2

b2 2 2 a 2 + b2 b2

3 2 3 2 2

a 2 + b2 a 2

+ 2b 4 a + b2 2 a + b2 b a 2 + b2

= + +

b4 4 b b2 2

2

2 b2 a 2 u 2 a 2 + b2

u 2 +

a + b2 b4

5 3

au a2 + b2 2 au a2 + b2 au a2 + b2 2 2

2 u2 b ,

b4 2b 2b2 a 2 + b2

2 2

2 au a2 + b2 a + b2 u bu a2 + b2 a2 (a2 + b2 ) u2 b2

z = +

b2 2a 2a b2

6 4 2 2

a + 2a4 b2 + a2 b4 u2 a + 3a2 b2 + 2b4 u2 a + b2 u 2

= + +

b4 4a2 b2

2 2

2 2

2 2

4

2

a +b u a +b 2 2 bu a + b 2

a +b 2 a a + b2 u 2 b2

+

b 2a2 b

4

2

2 2

a u (a + b ) u b 2 2 3 2 2 2 2 2

a + ab a +b b a +b

2 2 2

+ ,

b b 2a 2a

12 J. K. Haugland

5. Conclusion

The parameterizations cover all possible scenarios, and Theorem 1 is thus proved.

Strictly speaking, the set of points where R1 can have its center is in general not

the entire conic section, but a subset as implied by the conditions that we have

included for the parameters.

References

[1] H. Fukagawa and D. Pedoe, Japanese Temple Geometry Problems, Charles Babbage Research

Centre, Winnipeg, 1989.

[2] H. Fukagawa and J. F. Rigby, Traditional Japanese Mathematics Problems of the 18th and 19th

Centuries, SCT Press, Singapore, 2002.

[3] H. Fukagawa and T. Rothman, Sacred Mathematics, Japanese Temple Geometry, Princeton Uni-

versity Press, 2008.

[4] T. Rothman, Japanese Temple Geometry, Scientific American, 278, May 1998, 8591.

Jan Kristian Haugland: Arnstein Arnebergs vei 30, Leilighet 308, 1366 Lysaker, Norway

E-mail address: admin@neutreeko.net

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