# Inverse Functions: Arccosine and SSS (Part 21)

Arccosine has an important advantage over arcsine when solving for the parts of a triangle: there is no possibility ambiguity about the angle.

Solve $\triangle ABC$ if $a = 16$, $b = 20$, and $c = 25$.

When solving for the three angles, it’s best to start with the biggest angle (that is, the angle opposite the biggest side). To see why, let’s see what happens if we first use the Law of Cosines to solve for one of the two smaller angles, say $\alpha$: $a^2 = b^2 + c^2 - 2 b c \cos \alpha$ $256 = 400 + 625 - 1000 \cos \alpha$ $-769 = -1000 \cos \alpha$ $0.769 = \cos \alpha$ $\alpha \approx 39.746^\circ$

So far, so good. Now let’s try using the Law of Sines to solve for $\gamma$: $\displaystyle \frac{\sin \alpha}{a} = \displaystyle \frac{\sin \gamma}{c}$ $\displaystyle \frac{\sin 39.746^\circ}{16} \approx \displaystyle \frac{\sin \gamma}{25}$ $0.99883 \approx \sin \gamma$

Uh oh… there are two possible solutions for $\gamma$ since, hypothetically, $\gamma$ could be in either the first or second quadrant! So we have no way of knowing, using only the Law of Sines, whether $\gamma \approx 87.223^\circ$ or if $\gamma \approx 180^\circ - 87.223^\circ = 92.777^\circ$. For this reason, it would have been far better to solve for the biggest angle first. For the present example, the biggest answer is $\gamma$ since that’s the angle opposite the longest side. $c^2 = a^2 + b^2 - 2 a b \cos \gamma$ $625 = 256 + 400 - 640 \cos \gamma$ $-31 =-640 \cos \gamma$ $0.0484375 = \cos \gamma$

Using a calculator, we find that $\gamma \approx 87.223^\circ$.

We now use the Law of Sines to solve for either $\alpha$ or $\beta$ (pretending that we didn’t do the work above). Let’s solve for $\alpha$: $\displaystyle \frac{\sin \alpha}{a} = \displaystyle \frac{\sin \gamma}{c}$ $\displaystyle \frac{\sin \alpha}{16} \approx \displaystyle \frac{\sin 87.223}{25}$ $\sin \alpha \approx 0.63949$

This equation also has two solutions in the interval $[0^\circ, 180^\circ]$, namely, $\alpha \approx 39.736^\circ$ and $\alpha \approx 180^\circ - 39.736^\circ = 140.264^\circ$. However, we know full well that the answer can’t be larger than $\gamma$ since that’s already known to be the largest angle. So there’s no need to overthink the matter — the answer from blindly using arcsine on a calculator is going to be the answer for $\alpha$.

Naturally, the easiest way of finding $\beta$ is by computing $180^\circ - \alpha - \gamma$.

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