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Illustration of a unit circle. The variable t is an angle measure.

In mathematics, a unit circle is a circle with a radius of one. Frequently, especially in trigonometry, "the" unit circle is the circle of radius one centered at the origin (0, 0) in the Cartesian coordinate system in the Euclidean plane. The unit circle is often denoted S1; the generalization to higher dimensions is the unit sphere.

If (x, y) is a point on the unit circle in the first quadrant, then x and y are the lengths of the legs of a right triangle whose hypotenuse has length 1. Thus, by the Pythagorean theorem, x and y satisfy the equation

x2 + y2 = 1.

Since x2 = (−x)2 for all x, and since the reflection of any point on the unit circle about the x- or y-axis is also on the unit circle, the above equation holds for all points (x, y) on the unit circle, not just those in the first quadrant.

One may also use other notions of "distance" to define other "unit circles", such as the Riemannian circle; see the article on mathematical norms for additional examples.


Forms of unit circle points

  • exponential :
 z = \,\mathrm{e}^{i t}\,
  • trigonometric :
z = \cos(t) + i \sin(t) \,

Trigonometric functions on the unit circle

All of the trigonometric functions of the angle θ can be constructed geometrically in terms of a unit circle centered at O.

The trigonometric functions cosine and sine may be defined on the unit circle as follows. If (x, y) is a point of the unit circle, and if the ray from the origin (0, 0) to (x, y) makes an angle t from the positive x-axis, (where counterclockwise turning is positive), then

\cos(t) = x \,\!
\sin(t) = y. \,\!

The equation x2 + y2 = 1 gives the relation

 \cos^2(t) + \sin^2(t) = 1. \,\!

The unit circle also demonstrates that sine and cosine are periodic functions, with the identities

\cos t = \cos(2\pi k+t) \,\!
\sin t = \sin(2\pi k+t) \,\!

for any integer k.

Triangles constructed on the unit circle can also be used to illustrate the periodicity of the trigonometric functions. First, construct a radius OA from the origin to a point P(x1,y1) on the unit circle such that an angle t with 0 < t < π/2 is formed with the positive arm of the x-axis. Now consider a point Q(x1,0) and line segments PQ \perp OQ. The result is a right triangle ΔOPQ with ∠QOP = t. Because PQ has length y1, OQ length x1, and OA length 1, sin(t) = y1 and cos(t) = x1. Having established these equivalences, take another radius OR from the origin to a point R(−x1,y1) on the circle such that the same angle t is formed with the negative arm of the x-axis. Now consider a point S(−x1,0) and line segments RS \perp OS. The result is a right triangle ΔORS with ∠SOR = t. It can hence be seen that, because ∠ROQ = π−t, R is at (cos(π−t),sin(π−t)) in the same way that P is at (cos(t),sin(t)). The conclusion is that, since (−x1,y1) is the same as (cos(π−t),sin(π−t)) and (x1,y1) is the same as (cos(t),sin(t)), it is true that sin(t) = sin(π−t) and −cos(t) = cos(π−t). It may be inferred in a similar manner that tan(π−t) = −tan(t), since tan(t) = y1/x1 and tan(π−t) = y1/(−x1). A simple demonstration of the above can be seen in the equality sin(π/4) = sin(3π/4) = 1/sqrt(2).

When working with right triangles, sine, cosine, and other trigonometric functions only make sense for angle measures more than zero and less than π/2. However, when defined with the unit circle, these functions produce meaningful values for any real-valued angle measure – even those greater than 2π. In fact, all six standard trigonometric functions – sine, cosine, tangent, cotangent, secant, and cosecant, as well as archaic functions like versine and exsecant – can be defined geometrically in terms of a unit circle, as shown at right.

Using the unit circle, the values of any trigonometric function for many angles other than those labeled can be calculated without the use of a calculator by using the Sum and Difference Formulas.

Unit circle angles.svg

Circle group

Complex numbers can be identified with points in the Euclidean plane, namely the number a + bi is identified with the point (a, b). Under this identification, the unit circle is a group under multiplication, called the circle group. This group has important applications in mathematics and science.

Complex dynamics

Unit circle in complex dynamics

Julia set of discrete nonlinear dynamical system with evolution function:

f_0(x) = x^2 \,

is a unit circle. It is a simplest case so it is widely used in study of dynamical systems.

See also

External links


Simple English

.]] In mathematics, a unit circle is a circle with a radius of 1. The equation of the unit circle is x^2 + y^2 = 1. The unit circle is centered at the Origin, or coordinates (0,0). It is often used in Trigonometry.

Trigonometric functions in the unit circle

In a unit circle, where t is the angle desired, x and y can be defined as \cos (t) = x and \sin (t) = y. Using the function of the unit circle, x^2 + y^2 = 1, another equation for the unit circle is found, \cos^2(t) + \sin^2(t) = 1. When working with trigonometric functions, it is mainly useful to use angles with measures between 0 and \pi\over 2 radians, or 0 through 90 degrees. It is possible to have higher angles than that, however. Using the unit circle, two identities can be found: \cos (t) = \cos (2 \cdot \pi k + t) and sin (t) = \sin (2 \cdot \pi k + t) for any integer k.


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