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Everett Herzog

Math 1060
Determine the Heights Project

In trigonometry we learn all about measuring triangles. As we learn about the
relationships between the three sides and angles we learn how to do all kinds of
useful things. For example we can measure the unknown heights of trees,
buildings and even mountains with just the information available to us on the
ground. The use of trigonometry allowed surveyors of the 1800s to accurately
find the height of Mount Everest (they were less than .1% away from the height
found by modern satellites).
Lets walk through two examples of how trigonometry allows us to determine
unknown heights. For our first example we will find the height of the light poles
here on campus. Begin by standing at the base of the pole and measuring out a
distance until you can see the top, in this case about 15 feet. Using a simple paper
inclinometer (used to measure angles) we learn that the angle between you and
the top of the pole is 34
0
.


Now using these two numbers we can find the height of the pole. The tangent
formula is the easiest way to find the unknown side. The formula uses the X and
Y coordinate system and states: The tangent of any angle is equal to Y divided by
X. For our example it would look like this:
Tangent 34
0
=Height / 15 ft
In order to solve for the height we have to get it by its self.
Height =15 tangent34
0
Plugging this information into your calculator you learn that the light pole is 10.1
ft tall. The angle was measured from eye level so we will have to add that in to
get an accurate measurement. After measuring you find that eye level is 66 inches
or 5.5 ft off the ground making the actual height of the light pole 15.6 ft.

Sometimes the things we want to measure are not as easily accessible as light
poles. For our second example we will find the height of a building on campus
that we cant get directly to the base of.
We begin by standing at some point away from the building where we can see the
top and measure the angle with our inclinometer. We find this angle to be 40
0
and
we will call this point (P). Now we will measure a distance straight back from
point (P) to another point (Q) and measure the angle again. We will use a distance
of 10 ft and an angle of 31
0
. We will use this information to create a triangle
between the top of the building, point (P) and point (Q).
As we stated at the beginning in trigonometry we learn the relationships between
the sides and angles of triangles. The first thing we need to do is find the angle at
the top of our triangle. We do this by subtracting 31
0
from 40
0
:
40-31=9
0
Now that we know the top angle and the length of its opposite side (the 10 ft we
walked) we can set up a simple equation to find the length of one of the other
sides of our triangle.

To do this we will use the Law of Sines. This law states that the Sine of any
angle over its opposite side is equal to the Sine of any of the other angles over
their opposite side.
Sin() / a = Sin() / b = Sin() / c
Use this to find the length of side (a).
Sin(31
0
) / a = Sin(9
0
) / 10 ft.
a= 10Sin(31
0
) / Sin(9
0
)
a= 32.9ft
Again remember that you measured your angle from eye level so you have to add
5.5 ft making the distance 38.4 ft.

Now that we have the length of this side we can solve for the height of the
building. Refer back to sketch 2 and notice the building makes a 90
0
angle with
the ground. Using the length of side (a) and the law of Sines we can find the
height of the building.
Sin() / a = Sin() / c
Sin(90
0
) / 38.4 = Sin(40
0
) / height
Height = 38.4Sin(40
0
) / Sin(90
0
)
Height =24.7 ft

From these relatively simple equations we were able to find the heights of two
unknown objects, and were able to see first hand some of the many important
ways that math is used in the real world. The math used in these equations
continues to be used by engineers, surveyors, pilots and many other groups
everyday. By seeing the ways that math is applied in day to day life we learn to
appreciate all that math has to offer and look at our classes in new and exciting
ways.