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Equivalent Polar Curves

Equations that are different in appearance but produce identical graphs.

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Equivalent Polar Curves

While working on a problem in math class, you get a solution with a certain equation. In this case, your solution is 3 + 2\cos (\theta) . Your friend comes over and tells you that he thinks he has solved the problem. However, when he shows you his paper, his equation looks different from yours. His solution is -3 + 2\cos (-\theta) . Is there a way you can determine if the two equations are equivalent?

At the conclusion of this Concept, you'll be able to determine if the solutions of you and your friend are equivalent.

Watch This

Learn more about families of polar curves by watching the video at this link.


The expression “same only different” comes into play in this Concept. We will graph two distinct polar equations that will produce two equivalent graphs. Use your graphing calculator and create these curves as the equations are presented.

In some other Concepts, graphs were generated of a limaçon, a dimpled limaçon, a looped limaçon and a cardioid. All of these were of the form r = a \pm b \sin \theta or r = a \pm b \cos \theta . The easiest way to see what polar equations produce equivalent curves is to use either a graphing calculator or a software program to generate the graphs of various polar equations.

Example A

Plot the following polar equations and compare the graphs.

a) r & = 1 + 2 \sin \theta \\r & = -1 + 2 \sin \theta

b) r & = 4 \cos \theta \\r & = 4 \cos (-\theta)

Solution: By looking at the graphs, the result is the same. So, even though a is different in both, they have the same graph. We can assume that the sign of a does not matter.

b) These functions also result in the same graph. Here, \theta differed by a negative. So we can assume that the sign of \theta does not change the appearance of the graph.

Example B

Graph the equations x^2 + y^2 = 16 and r = 4 . Describe the graphs.


Both equations, one in rectangular form and one in polar form, are circles with a radius of 4 and center at the origin.

Example C

Graph the equations (x - 2)^2 + (y + 2)^2 = 8 and r = 4 \cos \theta - 4 \sin \theta . Describe the graphs.

Solution: There is not a visual representation shown here, but on your calculator you should see that the graphs are circles centered at (2, -2) with a radius 2 \sqrt{2} \approx 2.8 .


Equivalent Polar Curves: A set of equivalent polar curves are two equations that are different in appearance but that produce identical graphs.

Guided Practice

1. Write the rectangular equation x^2 + y^2 = 6x in polar form and graph both equations. Should they be equivalent?

2. Determine if r = -2 + \sin \theta and r = 2 - \sin \theta are equivalent without graphing.

3. Determine if r = -3 + 4 \cos (- \pi) and r = 3 + 4 \cos \pi are equivalent without graphing.



x^2 + y^2 & = 6x \\ 	r^2 & = 6(r \cos \theta) &&  r^2 = x^2 + y^2 \qquad \ \text{and} \qquad \ x = y \cos \theta \\ r & = 6 \cos \theta && \text{divide by}\ r

Both equations produced a circle with center (3, 0) and a radius of 3 .

2. r = - 2 + \sin \theta and r = 2 - \sin \theta are not equivalent because the sine has the opposite sign. r = - 2 + \sin \theta will be primarily above the horizontal axis and r = 2 - \sin \theta will be mostly below. However, the two do have the same pole axis intercepts.

3. r = -3 + 4 \cos ( - \pi) and r = 3 + 4 \cos \pi are equivalent because the sign of "a" does not matter, nor does the sign of \theta .

Concept Problem Solution

As you learned in this Concept, we can compare graphs of equations to see if the equations are the same or not.

A graph of 3 + 2\cos (\theta) looks like this:

And a graph of -3 + 2\cos (-\theta) looks like this:

As you can see from the plots, your friend is correct. Your graph and his are the same, therefore the equations are equivalent.


For each equation in rectangular form given below, write the equivalent equation in polar form.

  1. x^2+y^2=4
  2. x^2+y^2=6y
  3. (x-1)^2+y^2=1
  4. (x-4)^2+(y-1)^2=17
  5. x^2+y^2=9

For each equation below in polar form, write another equation in polar form that will produce the same graph.

  1. r=4+3\sin\theta
  2. r=2-\sin\theta
  3. r=2+2\cos\theta
  4. r=3-\cos\theta
  5. r=2+\sin\theta

Determine whether each of the following sets of equations produce equivalent graphs without graphing.

  1. r=3-\sin \theta and r=3+\sin \theta
  2. r=1+2\sin \theta and r=-1+2\sin \theta
  3. r=3\sin \theta and r=3\sin ( -\theta )
  4. r=2\cos \theta and r=2\cos (-\theta )
  5. r=1+3\cos \theta and r=1-3\cos \theta

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