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Law of Sines

Proportion based on ratios of sides and sines of the opposite angles for non-right triangles.

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Law of Sines

When given a right triangle, you can use basic trigonometry to solve for missing information. When given SSS or SAS, you can use the Law of Cosines to solve for the missing information. But what happens when you are given two sides of a triangle and an angle that is not included? There are many ways to show two triangles are congruent, but SSA is not one of them. Why not? 

Watch This

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APNkWrD-U1k Khan Academy: Proof: Law of Sines

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxYVBbSXYkA James Sousa: The Law of Sines: The Basics

Guidance

When given two sides and an angle that is not included between the two sides, you can use the Law of Sines. The Law of Sines states that in every triangle the ratio of each side to the sine of its corresponding angle is always the same. Essentially, it clarifies the general concept that opposite the largest angle is always the longest side. 

Here is a proof of the Law of Sines:

Looking at the right triangle formed on the left:

Looking at the right triangle formed on the right:

Equating the heights which must be identical:

The best way to use the Law of Sines is to draw an extremely consistent picture each and every time even if that means redrawing and relabeling a picture. The reason why the consistency is important is because sometimes given SSA information defines zero, one or even two possible triangles. 

Always draw the given angle in the bottom left with the two given sides above. 

In this image side  is deliberately too short, but in most problems you will not know this. You will need to compare to the height. 

Case 1:

Simply put, side  is not long enough to reach the opposite side and the triangle is impossible. 

Case 2:

Side  just barely reaches the opposite side forming a  angle. 

Case 3:

In this case side  can swing toward the interior of the triangle or the exterior of the triangle- there are two possible triangles. This is called the ambiguous case because the given information does not uniquely identify one triangle. To solve for both triangles, use the Law of Sines to solve for angle  first and then use the supplement to determine .

Case 4: 

In this case, side  can only swing towards the exterior of the triangle, only producing .

Example A

, and . If possible, find .

Solution:

Because , this information does not form a proper triangle.

Example B

, and   If possible, find .

Solution:

 

Since , this information forms exactly one triangle and angle  must be .

Example C

 and . If possible, find .

Solution:

Since , there must be two possible angles for angle

Apply the Law of Sines:

Concept Problem Revisited

SSA is not a method from Geometry that shows two triangles are congruent because it does not always define a unique triangle. 

Vocabulary

Ambiguous means that the given information may not uniquely identify one triangle. 

Guided Practice

1. Given  where , find

2. Given  where  find .

3. Given  where , find  if possible. 

Answers:

1. 

2. 

3.

Because , this triangle is impossible. 

Practice

For 1-3, draw a picture of the triangle and state how many triangles could be formed with the given values.

1. 

2. 

3. 

For 4-7, find all possible measures of  (if any exist) for each of the following triangle values.

4.

5. 

6. 

7. 

For 8-12, find the length of  for each of the following triangle values.

8.

9. 

10. 

11.

12.

13. In  and . What's a possible value for  that would produce two triangles?

14. In  and . What's a possible value for  that would produce no triangles?

15. In  and . What's a possible value for  that would produce one triangle?

Vocabulary

ambiguous

ambiguous

Ambiguous means that the given information is not specific. In the context of Geometry or Trigonometry, it means that the given data may not uniquely identify one shape.
SSA

SSA

SSA means side, side, angle and refers to the fact that two sides and the non-included angle of a triangle are known in a problem.

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