# Trisecting the Angle/Parabola

## Theorem

Let $\alpha$ be an angle which is to be trisected.

This can be achieved by means of a parabola.

However, the points on the parabola that are required for this construction cannot be found by using only a straightedge and compass.

## Construction

Let $\angle POQ$ be the angle which is to be trisected.

Let the parabola $\PP$ be constructed whose equation is $y = 2 x^2$.

Construct the circle $\CC_1$ whose center is at $O$ and whose radius is $1$.

By Equation of Circle, this has the equation:

- $x^2 + y^2 = 1$

Let $\CC$ intersect $OQ$ at $A$.

Let $AB$ be constructed parallel to the $x$-axis to intersect the $y$-axis at $B$.

Let $AB$ be bisected at $C$.

Let $CE$ be constructed perpendicular to $AB$.

Let $DE$ be tangent to circle $\CC_1$ at the $y$-axis

Hence $E$ is the intersection of $CE$ and $DE$.

Construct the circle $\CC_2$ whose center is at $E$ which passes through $O$.

Let $F$ be the point at which the circle $\CC_2$ intersects the parabola $\PP$.

Let $FG$ be dropped perpendicular to the $x$-axis.

Let $FG$ intersect the circle $\CC_1$ at $H$.

The angle $\angle POH$ is the required trisection of $\angle POQ$.

## Proof

First, notice that because $A$ lies on $\CC_1$:

- $A = \tuple {\cos \angle POQ, \sin \angle POQ}$

This means:

- $B = \tuple {0, \sin \angle POQ}$

Because $C$ is the midpoint of $AB$:

- $C = \tuple {\dfrac {\cos \angle POQ} 2, \sin \angle POQ}$

Because $D$ lies on $\CC_1$:

- $D = \tuple {0, 1}$

and so:

- $E = \tuple {\dfrac {\cos \angle POQ} 2, 1}$

From Equation of Circle, $C_2$ has the equation:

- $\paren {x - \dfrac {\cos \angle POQ} 2}^2 + \paren {y -1}^2 = \dfrac {\cos^2 \angle POQ} 4 + 1$

Because $F$ lies on both $\CC_2$ and $\PP$, we can solve for the $x$-coordinate of $F$:

\(\ds \paren {x - \dfrac {\cos \angle POQ} 2}^2 + \paren {2 x^2 - 1}^2\) | \(=\) | \(\ds \dfrac {\cos^2 \angle POQ} 4 + 1\) | ||||||||||||

\(\ds \leadsto \ \ \) | \(\ds x^2 - x \cos \angle POQ + \dfrac {\cos^2 \angle POQ} 4 + 4 x^4 - 4 x^2 + 1\) | \(=\) | \(\ds \dfrac {\cos^2 \angle POQ} 4 + 1\) | |||||||||||

\(\ds \leadsto \ \ \) | \(\ds x^2 - x \cos \angle POQ + 4 x^4 - 4 x^2\) | \(=\) | \(\ds 0\) | |||||||||||

\(\ds \leadsto \ \ \) | \(\ds 4 x^4 - 3 x^2 - x \cos \angle POQ\) | \(=\) | \(\ds 0\) | |||||||||||

\(\ds \leadsto \ \ \) | \(\ds x \paren {4 x^3 - 3 x - \cos \angle POQ}\) | \(=\) | \(\ds 0\) |

Thus $x = 0$ or $4 x^3 - 3 x - \cos \angle POQ = 0$.

This confirms what is obvious by the construction, namely that $\CC_2$ and $\PP$ intersect at the origin.

We can also see that the solution we are after must lie in the first quadrant, where $x \ne 0$.

So there must be one positive $x$ such that:

- $4 x^3 - 3 x = \cos \angle POQ$

By the Triple Angle Formula for Cosine $\cos 3 \theta = 4 \cos^3 \theta - 3 \cos \theta$, it is clear that one solution that works is:

- $x = \map \cos {\dfrac {\angle POQ} 3}$

Because, by construction:

- there is a vertical line through $F$ and $H$
- $H$ lies on the unit circle $\CC_1$

it follows that:

- $H = \tuple {\cos \dfrac {\angle POQ} 3, \sin \dfrac {\angle POQ} 3}$

Therefore:

- $\angle POH = \dfrac {\angle POQ} 3$

$\blacksquare$

## Also see

## Historical Note

Use of the parabola to trisect an angle appears to have originated with RenĂ© Descartes.

## Sources

- 1986: David Wells:
*Curious and Interesting Numbers*... (previous) ... (next): $3$ - 1997: David Wells:
*Curious and Interesting Numbers*(2nd ed.) ... (previous) ... (next): $3$