My favorite SSA problem

Last month, I had a series of posts on solving a triangle when two sides and a non-included angle are given. Here is my all-time favorite word problem along these lines:

Assume that Venus and Earth both have circular orbits around the sun with radii 68 million miles and 93 million miles, respectively. Just after sunrise, an astronomer sees Venus on the horizon and measures the angle between Venus and the sun to be 20 degrees. Find the possible distances from Venus to Earth at that moment.


I won’t go through the solution of the problem… it’s a fairly straightforward application of SSA techniques. But I’ve always had a soft spot for this problem… probably because I have a soft spot for astronomy and the picture of the planets in their orbits makes perfectly clear why the information can narrow down the answer to two possible solutions, but more information is needed in order to figure out which one is actually correct.

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