How can the height of a mountain be measured? What about the distance from Earth to the sun? Like many seemingly impossible problems, we rely on mathematical formulas to find the answers. The trigonometric identities, commonly used in mathematical proofs, have had real-world applications for centuries, including their use in calculating long distances.

The trigonometric identities we will examine in this section can be traced to a Persian astronomer who lived around 950 AD, but the ancient Greeks discovered these same formulas much earlier and stated them in terms of chords. These are special equations or postulates, true for all values input to the equations, and with innumerable applications.

In this section, we will learn techniques that will enable us to solve problems such as the
ones presented above. The formulas that follow will simplify many trigonometric expressions and
equations. Keep in mind that, throughout this section, the term *formula* is used
synonymously with the word *identity*.

Finding the exact value of the sine, cosine, or tangent of an angle is often easier if we can
rewrite the given angle in terms of two angles that have known trigonometric values. We can
use the special angles, which we can review in the unit circle shown in **Figure
2**.

We will begin with the sum and difference formulas for cosine, so that we can find the cosine
of a given angle if we can break it up into the sum or difference of two of the special
angles. See **Table 1**.

Sum formula for cosine | |
---|---|

Difference formula for cosine |

First, we will prove the difference formula for cosines. Letâ€™s consider two points on the
unit circle. See **Figure 3**. Point is at an angle
from the positive -axis with coordinates
and point is at an angle of
from the positive -axis with coordinates . Note the measure of angle is .

Label two more points: at an angle of from the positive -axis with coordinates ; and point with coordinates . Triangle is a rotation of triangle and thus the distance from to is the same as the distance from to .

We can find the distance from to using the distance formula.

Then we apply the Pythagorean Identity and simplify.

Similarly, using the distance formula we can find the distance from to .

Applying the Pythagorean Identity and simplifying we get:

Because the two distances are the same, we set them equal to each other and simplify.

Finally we subtract 2 from both sides and divide both sides by .

Thus, we have the difference formula for cosine. We can use similar methods to derive the cosine of the sum of two angles.

These formulas can be used to calculate the cosine of sums and differences of angles.

Given two angles, find the cosine of the difference between the angles.

- Write the difference formula for cosine.
- Substitute the values of the given angles into the formula.
- Simplify.

Using the formula for the cosine of the difference of two angles, find the exact value of .

Begin by writing the formula for the cosine of the difference of two angles. Then substitute the given values.

Keep in mind that we can always check the answer using a graphing calculator in radian mode.

Find the exact value of .

As , we can evaluate as .