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SECTION 10

SOLUTION OF OBLIQUE TRIANGLES


HANDBOOK Pages 101- 102
In solving problems for dimensions or angles, it is often conve-
nient to work with oblique triangles. In an oblique triangle, none of
the angles is a right angle. One of the angles may be over 90
degrees, or each of the three angles may be less than 90 degrees.
Any oblique triangle may be solved by constructing perpendiculars
to the sides from appropriate vertices, thus forming right triangles.
The methods, previously explained, for solving right triangles, will
then solve the oblique triangles. The objection to this method of
solving oblique triangles is that it is a long, tedious process.
Two of the examples in the Handbook on page 101, which arc
solved by the formulas for oblique triangles, will be solved by the
right-angle triangle method. These triangles have been solved to
show that all oblique triangles can be solved thus and to give an
opportunity to compare the two methods. There are four classes of
oblique triangles:
1) Given one side and two angles
2) Given two sides and the included angle
3) Given two sides and the angle opposite one of them
4) Given the three sides
Example 1:Solve the first example on Handbook page 101 by the
right-angle triangle method. By referring to the accompanying Fig.
1:
Angle C = 180° – ( 62° + 80° ) = 38°
Draw a line DC perpendicular to AB.
In the right triangle BDC, DC/BC = sin 62°.
DC
-------- = 0.88295; DC = 5 × 0.88295 = 4.41475
5
81
82 OBLIQUE TRIANGLES

Fig. 1. Oblique Triangle Solved by Right-Angle


Triangle Method
Angle BCD = 90° − 62° = 28°; DCA =38° − 28° =10°
BD
-------- = cos 62°; BD = 5 × 0.46947 = 2.34735
5
In triangle ADC, AC/DC = sec 10°.
AC = 4.41475 × 1.0154 = 4.4827
AD
------------------- = tan 10°; AD = 4.41475 × 0.17633 = 0.7785
4.41475
and AB = AD + BD = 0.7785 + 2.34735 = 3.1258
C = 38°; b = 4.4827; c = 3.1258
Example 2:Apply the right-angle triangle method to the solution
of the second example on Handbook page 101.
Referring to Fig. 2, draw a line BD perpendicular to CA.
In the right triangle BDC, BD/9 = sin 35°.
BD = 9 × 0.57358 = 5.16222
CD
-------- = cos 35°; CD = 9 × 0.81915 = 7.37235
9
DA = 8 – 7.37235 = 0.62765

In the right triangle BDA, BD


-------- = 5.16222
------------------- = tan A .
DA 0.62765
OBLIQUE TRIANGLES 83

tan A = 8.2246 and A = 83°4′


B = 180° – ( 83°4′ + 35° ) = 61°56′
BA- = ---------------
BA - = csc 83°4′; BA = 5.1622 × 1.0074
-------
BD 5.1622
= 5.2004
BA = 5.1622 × 1.0074 = 5.2004
A = 83°4′ ; B = 61°56′ ; C = 35°
a = 9 ; b = 8 ; c = 5.2004

Fig. 2. Another Example of the Right-Angle Triangle Solution


of an Oblique Triangle Equation
Use of Formulas for Oblique Triangles.—Oblique triangles are
not encountered as frequently as right triangles, and, therefore, the
methods of solving the latter may be fresh in the memory whereas
methods for solving the former may be forgotten. All the formulas
involved in the solution of the four classes of oblique triangles are
derived from: (1) the law of sines; (2) the law of cosines; and (3)
the sum of angles of a triangle equal 180°.
The law of sines is that, in any triangle, the lengths of the sides
are proportional to the sines of the opposite angles. (See diagrams
on Handbook page 101.)
a - = ----------
b - = -----------
c
---------- (1)
sin A sin B sin C
Solving this equation, we get:
84 OBLIQUE TRIANGLES

a b
----------- = ----------- ; then a × sinB = b × sinA and
sin A sin B
b × sin A b × sin A
a = -------------------- ; sin B = --------------------
sin B a
a × sin B a × sin B
b = -------------------- ; sin A = --------------------
sin A b
a
In like manner, ---------- c
- = ----------- and
sin A sin C
a × sin C-
a × sinC = c ×Sin A; hence sin A = --------------------
c
b c
- = ----------- or b × sin C = c × sin B
and ----------
sin B sin C
Thus, twelve formulas may be derived. As a general rule, only
Formula (1) is remembered, and special formulas are derived
from it as required.
The law of cosines states that, in any triangle, the square of any
side equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides minus
twice their product multiplied by the cosine of the angle between
them. These relations are stated as formulas thus:
2 2 2
a = b + c – 2bc × cos A or
(1)
2 2
a = b + c – 2bc × cos A
2 2 2
b = a + c – 2ac × cos B or
(2)
2 2
b = a + c – 2ac × cos B
2 2 2
c = a + b – 2ab × cos C or
(3)
2 2
c = a + b – 2ab × cos C
2 2 2
By solving (1), a = b + c – 2bc × cos A for cos A,
2 2 2
2bc × cos A = b + c – a (transposing)
OBLIQUE TRIANGLES 85

2 2 2
b + c – a-
cos A = ----------------------------
2bc
In like manner, formulas for cos B and cos C may be found.

Fig. 3. Diagram Illustrating Example 3


Example 3:A problem quite often encountered in layout work is
illustrated in Fig. 3. It is required to find the dimensions x and y
between the holes, these dimensions being measured from the
intersection of the perpendicular line with the center line of the two
lower holes. The three center-to-center distances are the only
known values.
The method that might first suggest itself is to find the angle A
(or B) by some such formulas as:
2 2 2
b + c – a-
cos A = ----------------------------
2bc
and then solve the right triangle for y by the formula
y = b cos A
Formula (1) and (2) can be combined as follows:
2 2 2
y = b----------------------------
+ c – a-
2c
86 OBLIQUE TRIANGLES

The value of x can be determined in a similar manner.


The second solution of this problem involves the following geo-
metrical proposition: In any oblique triangle where the three sides
are known, the ratio of the length of the base to the sum of the
other two sides equals the ratio of the difference between the
length of the two sides to the difference between the lengths x and
y. Therefore, if a = 14, b = 12, and c = 16 inches, then
c: ( a + b ) = ( a – b ): ( x – y )
16:26 = 2: ( x – y )
26 × 2
( x – y ) = --------------- = 3 1⁄4 inches
16
(x + y) + (x – y) 16 + 3 1⁄
x = --------------------------------------- = -------------------4 = 9.625 inches
2 2
( x + y ) – ( x – y -) = 16 – 3 1⁄4- = 6.375 inches
y = ------------------------------------- ------------------
2 2
When Angles Have Negative Values.—In the solution of oblique
triangles having one angle larger than 90 degrees, it is sometimes
necessary to use angles whose functions are negative. (Review
Handbook pages 4 and 106.) Notice that for angles between 90
degrees and 180 degrees, the cosine, tangent, cotangent, and secant
are negative.
Example 4:By referring to Fig. 4, two sides and the angle
between them are shown. Find angles A and B. (See Handbook
page 101.)
4 × sin 20° - = -------------------------------------
4 × 0.34202 = ---------------------------
1.36808 -
tan A = -----------------------------------
3 – 4 × cos 20° 3 – 4 × 0.93969 3 – 3.75876
It will be seen that in the denominator of the fraction above, the
number to be subtracted from 3 is greater than 3; the numbers are
therefore reversed, 3 being subtracted from 3.75876, the remainder
then being negative. Hence:

1.36808 1.36808
tan A = ---------------------------
- = ---------------------- = – 1.80305
3 – 3.75876 – 0.75876
The final result is negative because a positive number (1.36808)
is divided by a negative number (−0.75876). The tangents of
OBLIQUE TRIANGLES 87

angles greater than 90 degrees and smaller than 180 degrees are
negative. To illustrate an angle whose tangent is negative, enter the
value −1.80305 in the calculator and find the corresponding angle,
which −60.986558 degrees, or −60 degrees, 59 minutes, 59 sec-
onds. Because the tangent is negative, angle A must be subtracted
from 180 degrees, giving 119.01344 degrees, or 119 degrees, 0
minutes, 49 seconds as the angle. Now angle B is found from the
formula,
B = 180° – ( A + C ) = 180° – ( 119°0′11″ + 20° )
= 180° – 139°0′11″ = 40°59′49″

Fig. 4. Finding Angles A and B from the Dimensions Given


When Either of Two Triangles Conforms to the Given Dimen-
sions.—When two sides and the angle opposite one of the given
sides are known, if the side opposite the given angle is shorter than
the other given side, two triangles can be drawn, having sides of
the required length (as shown by Fig. 5) and the required angle
opposite one of the sides. The lengths of the two known sides of
each triangle are 8 and 9 inches, and the angle opposite the 8-inch
side is 49 degrees, 27 minutes in each triangle; but it will be seen
that the angle B of the lower triangle is very much larger than the
corresponding angle of the upper triangle, and there is a great dif-
ference in the area. When two sides and one of the opposite angles
are given, the problem is capable of two solutions when (and only
when) the side opposite the given angle is shorter than the other
given side. When the triangle to be calculated is drawn to scale, it
88 OBLIQUE TRIANGLES

is possible to determine from the shape of the triangle which of the


two solutions applies.

Fig. 5. Diagrams Showing Two Possible Solutions of the Same


Problem, Which Is to Find Angle B
Example 5:Find angle B, Fig. 5, from the formula, sinB = (b ×
sinA)/a, where b = 9 inches; A = 49 degrees, 27 minutes; a is the
side opposite angle A = 8 inches.
SinB = 9 × 0.75984/8 = 0.85482 = sin 58°44′34″ or sin B =
121°15′36″. The practical requirements of the problem doubtless
will indicate which of the two triangles shown in Fig. 5 is the cor-
rect one.
EXERCISES 89

Fig. 6. Another Example that Has Two Possible Solutions


Example 6:In Fig. 6, a = 2 inches, b = 3 inches, and A = 30
degrees. Find B.
× sin A = ---------------
sin B = b-------------------- sin 30°- = 0.75000
a 2
We find from the calculator that sine 0.75000 is the sine of
48°35′. From Fig. 6 it is apparent, however, that B is greater than
90 degrees, and as 0.75000 is the sine not only of 48°35′, but also
of 180° − 48°35′ = 131°25′, angle B in this triangle equals 131°25′.
This example illustrates how the practical requirements of the
problem indicate which of two angles is correct.

PRACTICE EXERCISES FOR SECTION 10


(See Answers to Practice Exercises For Section 10 on page 229)
1) Three holes in a jig are located as follows:
Hole No. 1 is 3.375 inches from hole No. 2 and 5.625 inches from
hole No. 3; the distance between No. 2 and No. 3 is 6.250 inches.
What three angles between the center lines are thus formed?
2) In Fig. 7 is shown a triangle one side of which is 6.5 feet, and
the two angles A and C are 78 and 73 degrees, respectively. Find
angle B, sides b and c, and the area.
3) In Fig. 8, side a equals 3.2 inches, angle A, 118 degrees, and
angle B, 40 degrees. Find angle C, sides b and c, and the area.
4) In Fig. 9, side b = 0.3 foot, angle B = 35°40′, and angle C =
24°10′. Find angle A, sides a and c, and the area.
5) Give two general rules for finding the areas of triangles.
90 EXERCISES

Fig. 7. Example for Practice Exercise No. 2

Fig. 8. Example for Practice Exercise No. 3

Fig. 9. Example for Practice Exercise No. 4