Parabolic Telescopes

Last week as I was going through a whirlwind tour of conics to wrap up my Math Analysis class, I wanted to illustrate some real-life examples. Rather than just saying “these things are parabolas, these things are ellipses [etc]” I wanted to have the kids DO something with conics.

I’m not sure I succeeded, but I did come up with one activity that, with further work, could be a nice problem for future Advanced Algebra / Analysis classes.

I had a nice high quality picture of the Very Large Array in New Mexico, since my sister and I visited there on a cross-country drive. I wondered if it was possible to find an equation that would actually model the parabolic shape of the telescopes. So I popped the picture into Geogebra and constructed a parabola via the locus tool (which I just recently learned how to use).

The stated goal of the assignment is “find an equation for the telescope.” I told them not to worry about the rotation. We could handle that later. (we didn’t handle it, but perhaps next time, if this comes after matrices we could multiply by a rotation matrix… find the angle by inverse trig based on the slope of the dish)

But I think if I had used Geogebra with the kids more this year, they might have the capability to construct the locus themselves instead of me giving them focus / directrix. Basically, if they did what I did, I feel they’d get a good understanding of what a parabola is from a locus standpoint.

I didn’t put this on the mathlet, but the diameter of one dish is 85 feet. Two ways to handle that: (1) rescale it so the geogebra numbers match it. (2) have the kids find the scaling factor (put points on the locus, measure the diameter using a segment). I like option 2, but that does require them to be well versed in Geogebra (goal: verse my kids in Geogebra next year!)

Well, I appreciate any comments / critique.

f(t): Help Me With Some Algebra

f(t): Help Me With Some Algebra

Given a chord AB and the intercepted arc S, is it possible to find radius r algebraically? (problem stated at f(t)) The consensus there seems to be no, due to the transcendental nature of sin(x).

But I find it interesting that r could be constructed with a compass and straightedge. However, I feel like I’m cheating with Geogebra since I had to place C in order to draw arc S. So I really wasn’t given S; I picked one based on C. Circular logic! (that’s a little math joke … ha ha ha.)

Update: Dr. Math has a nice page about solving circles given arbitrary parts. They reinforce the idea that this is a problem with numerical-only solution. Their solution involves Newton’s Method, something I myself am not very well versed in these days!

Triangles from folding

Using a square piece of paper, label each side 1 unit long. Find the midpoint of the top side by folding in half. Take the bottom right corner and fold it up to touch the midpoint of the top side. This creates three triangles. ABC, CDE, EFG. Determine the side lengths of all three triangles.

This was a nifty little problem given by Harold Jacobs at Asilomar 2007.