The
Department of Mathematics Education

EMAT6680

Write Up #7

Summer 03

**Basic Construction Concepts**

Tangent circle construction in general is based on the idea
that, given two circles, *a* and *b*, the circle tangent to both will
have a center lying along the radius of one circle, say *a*, and one point
of tangency, M, of the new tangent circle will coincide with the intersection
of the radius of *a* with circle *a*:

Note that the circle in the dotted lines is assumed to exist at this point – it is yet to be constructed and is only shown as a guide for reasoning through the required construction steps.

Next
realize that the distance between the center of *b* and the center, T, of
the supposed tangent circle is the sum of the radii of b and the new tangent
circle:

Imagining that this is the leg of an isosceles triangle, an equal leg of this triangle can be found along TM by adding a radius of b centered at point M:

At this stage of the construction it should be clear that
the center, T, of the tangent circle will be located along the perpendicular
bisector of the base of this isosceles triangle. Also since we already know T lies along the radius of *a*,
point T is at the intersection of the perpendicular bisector and the radius of *a*:

Note that the selection of the names point M on the large circle and point T on the newly created tangent circle are for a reason. Point M implies “Motion” and point T implies “Trace”. Scripts for this construction, as well as four others, can be found in the Geometer SketchPad ver. 4.04 file Asmt7_WGD.gsp. The construction above is found on page one of this file, but it also contains scripts for this and the other constructions that, if this file is place in the GSP Tool Folder, may be used to quickly construct a number of tangent circles.

Back to the “Motion” and “Trace” points, once the script
for this circle is used, select only the point M and animate. The point T has already been selected as a
trace point in the script. Depending on
whether circle *b* is inside or outside circle *a*, the center of the
tangent circle traces out either an ellipse of a hyperbola:

By a similar reasoning process, a number of other approaches to constructing the tangent circle may be taken. These, along with their scripts are found in the file Asmt7_WGD.gsp. The first four variations, which includes the approach discussed above, may have the initial point, M, located on the large circle or on the small circle. The small circle may be located either inside the tangent circle are outside:

The fifth construction considers that case where the large
circle, *a*, has an infinite radius; in other words it is a line:

**Exploration the Traces of Triangle Centers**

There is a myriad of curiosities contained in this construction, such as the formation of conic sections for the chosen trace and motion points, such ellipses and hyperbolas, whether one of the construction circles is on the interior or exterior of the other construction circle. The fifth case traces out a parabola. In the process of playing with the tangent circle, I became curious as to whether the points on the Euler line contained within the isosceles triangle used in the construction offered any possibilities for further exploration. This offers literally hundreds of avenues to explore, so I began with the first construction one and continued until I discovered a relationship that particularly piqued my curiosity.

Starting with the first construction (WGD 7-1 Motion Point, M, on Large, Small Outside T Circle). I explored the traces of the triangle centers, G, C, H and I as the point M moved on its circular path. The centroid G was modestly interesting in that it form elliptical and hyperbolic paths, similar to the center of the tangent circle.

The
incenter, I, of the triangle was
similar to the centroid with the exception that when circle *b* is
exterior to *a*, the incenter for a line at the base of the hyperbola
traced by the tangent circle center.

H was of somewhat greater interest in that is forms a what appears to be a perfectly linear path

** **

Finally, the trace of the circumcenter, C was considered:

Of course these same exercise could be done on the
remaining four constructions. But in terms
of discussing the behavior of the triangle centers in depth, the discussion
soon becomes intractable given the number of possibilities. So how do we chose a feature deserving
greater consideration? Although this is
obviously a very subjective question, feature that I find of the greatest
intrigue are those that exhibit great constancy in the fact of radical change
of the environment. Notice that the all
of the triangle centers exhibit a change in their limiting behavior whether
circles *a* and *b* occupy the same region or a disjoint region; that is, of course, except for the
circumcenter. It appears to follow a
linear path as point M traces circle *a* regardless of whether *b*
occupies the same region as *a*.
Why should this be so?

**Trace of the Circumcenter**

That the trace of the circumcenter should follow a linear path is actually nothing too earth-shaking when one recalls the definition of the circumcenter versus the definition of the triangle connecting the centers of the centers of the tangent circles. Considering each case separately, the underlying reason for this behavior is the same. This being the case, only the case for the ellipse is considered.

Take first the case of circle *a* lying inside circle
*b*. Notice that as point M moves
along circle *a*, that centers of *a* and *b* are stationary and
connected by one leg of the triangle used in the construction of the triangle
circumcenter. This single fact, while
not explaining yet the motion of C, does explain the path that C must be restricted
to. Recall that the definition of the
circumcenter is the intersection of perpendicular bisectors of the triangle
sides. One of these sides is the
segment connecting the stationary foci of the ellipse traced by C. Therefore, the circumcenter will not exist
outside the path of this perpendicular bisector of the major axis of the
ellipse. Regarding the motion of C,
this is determined by the position one (actually both) of the other bisectors,
which is not stationary. As T traces
out the ellipse, note that at time M lies along the line through the major axis
of the ellipse. This is when C is at
infinity because, the triangles acute angles are zero and the perpendicular
bisectors of the triangle side are parallel.
Therefore they never meet form the circumcenter. But as the acute angles leave zero, that is
M is on one side or the other of line through the major axis, the circumcenter
approaches from “+” or “-“ infinity:

Note that this approach from + and – infinity occurs twice, each time M crosses the major axis of the ellipse. Despite the differences between the ellipse and the hyperbola form by the center of the tangent circle, the line connecting the foci of the two curves is stationary. Therefore the consideration for the locus of points of the circumcenter is the same for both curves.