Area of a triangle: SAS, ASA, and the Law of Sines (Part 4)

The typical way students remember the area $K$ of a triangle is

$K = \displaystyle \frac{1}{2} \times \hbox{Base} \times \hbox{Height}$

However, there are other formulas for the area of a triangle which can be helpful if the height is not immediately known.

Case 1: SAS. Suppose that two sides and the angle between the sides — say, $b$ and $c$ and the measure of angle $A$ — are known.

If $\overline{CD}$ is an altitude for $\triangle ABC$, then $\triangle ACD$ is a right triangle. Therefore,

$\sin A = \displaystyle \frac{\hbox{opposite}}{\hbox{hypotenuse}} = \displaystyle \frac{h}{b}$, or $h = b \sin A$.

Therefore,

$K = \displaystyle \frac{1}{2} ch = \displaystyle \frac{1}{2} bc \sin A$.

Using the same picture, one can also show that

$K = \displaystyle \frac{1}{2} ac \sin B$

Also, with a different but similar picture, one can show that

$K = \displaystyle \frac{1}{2} ab \sin C$

An important consequence of the SAS area formula is the Law of Sines. Since all three formulas must give the same area $K$, we have

$\displaystyle \frac{1}{2} bc \sin A = \displaystyle \frac{1}{2} ac \sin B = \displaystyle \frac{1}{2} ab \sin C$

Multiplying by $\displaystyle \frac{2}{abc}$ produces the Law of Sines:

$\displaystyle \frac{\sin A}{a} = \displaystyle \frac{\sin B}{b} = \displaystyle \frac{\sin C}{c}$

Case 2: ASA. Now suppose that we are given the measures of two angles and the length of the side in between them — say, angles $A$ and $B$ and side $c$. Naturally, we can also get the measure of angle $C$ since the sum of the measures of the three angles must be $180^o$.

From the SAS formula and the Law of Sines, we have

$K = \displaystyle \frac{1}{2} bc \sin A \quad \hbox{and} \quad \displaystyle b = \frac{c \sin B}{\sin C}$

Combining these, we find

$K = \displaystyle \frac{1}{2} \frac{c \sin B}{\sin C} \cdot c \sin A$

$K = \displaystyle \frac{c^2 \sin A \sin B}{2 \sin C}$

By similar reasoning, we can also find that

$K = \displaystyle \frac{a^2 \sin B \sin C}{2 \sin A} ~~$ and $~~ K = \displaystyle \frac{b^2 \sin A \sin C}{2 \sin B}$