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Nov 2, 2009.

Polar Coordinates.

A point in the plane can be specified by its coordinates x and y coordinates. There is an
origin, an x-axis going left to right and a y-axis perpendicular to it going up and down.
There are positive directions chosen by convention along the axes. Usually to the right
or East on the x axis and up or north along the y-axis. A point with coordinates (3, 2)
is where you end up if you start at the origin go 3 units along the x-axis in the positive
direction and 4 units along the positive direction along the y axis. It does not matter in
which order you go. Three blocks east and then two blocks north gets you to the same
corner as two blocks north and then three blocks east.

This is not the only way to represent points in the plane. If you want to some place from
the origin, you can pick the exact direction and travel a precise distance and you will get
there. Direction is specified by an angle 0 2 and the distance by r > 0. r = 0 is
the origin. The point (3, 4) in Cartesian coordinates will be (r, ), where r = 32 + 42 = 5
and = arctan 34 , the angle the line joining the origin to (3, 4) makes with the x-axis.
We choose 0 2 because the point is in the third quadrant. If we were looking at
(3, 4), r will still be 5, but we will pick arctan 43 in the range 3
4
.

To go from Cartesian to Polar coordinates we convert in the following manner.


p y
r = x2 + y 2 , = arctan
x
= arctan xy has always two choices and + . One corresponds to (x, y) while the other
to (x, y). The choice depends on the signs of x and y, that determines the quadrant
the point is in.

To go from polar to Cartesian is easy. We use the formulas

x = r cos , y = r sin

Curves are specified in Cartesian Coordinates by f (x, y) p = 0. In polar coordinates this


will look like f (r cos , r cos ) = 0. g(r, ) = 0 becomes g( x2 + y 2 , arctan xy ) = 0.

Example. The circle x2 + y 2 = 25 becomes r 2 = 25 or r = 5. All points in all directions


at a distance 5 from the origin.
5
Example. The line y = x, becomes = 4
or = 4
.

Example. The circle (x 1)2 + (y 1)2 = 2 becomes r 2 2r cos 2r sin = 0 or


r = 2 sin + 2 cos

Example. The equation r =a cos + b sin becomes, r 2 = x2 + y 2 = ax + by the circle


with center (a, b) and radius a2 + b2 .

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Tangents in polar coordinates. If an equation is given in polar coordinates ne can calculate
dr
easily d .
If r = f (), then x = f () cos , y = f () sin .

dy dr
dy d d sin + r cos
= dx
= dr
dx d d cos + r sin

Homework.

1. Find the Polar coordinates of the points (2, 2) and (1, 3)


2.Find the Cartesian coordinates of the points whose polar coordinates are r = 3, = 4
and r = 4, = 3


3. What is the slope of the tangent to the curve r = 3 cos at = 6
?

4. What is the equation in Polar coordinates of the curve

x2 y 2 = 1?

5. What is the equation in Cartesian coordinates of the curve r 3 = sin + cos ?