# Calculating the height of a circular segment at all points provided only chord and arc lengths

Please imagine that we have a circular segment with some arc length 's' and chord length 'a' (using notation from http://mathworld.wolfram.com/CircularSegment.html):

Provided only 'a' and 's', and placing the left-hand-side point of the chord at the origin of the Euclidean plane (or a more convenient point), is there sufficient information to write an expression for the height of the circular segment (i.e. the y-axis/"vertical" distance between the chord on the x-axis and the circular arc) as a function of a position on the chord?

It's a simple matter to express the chord length in terms of the arc length and theta: $$a = (s) * 2\frac{\sin(\frac{\theta}{2})}{\theta}$$, or an expression for the arc length in terms of the chord length and theta: $$s = \frac{a\theta}{2\sin\frac{\theta}{2}}$$. And one can write an express for the maximum height as: $$h = R - \frac{1}{2}\sqrt{(-a)^2+4R^2}$$, where the radius of the circle, 'R' is related to theta as: $$R = \frac{1}{2} \sqrt{\frac{a^2}{\cos^2\frac{\theta}{2}-1}}$$.

If there is insufficient information to accomplish the above, I would love to have an intuitive explanation for why this is so.

• With just $s$ and $a$, the problem is ill-posed. There's no way to determine the radius or other such useful info from just those two. Nov 1, 2010 at 2:35
• I feel that we should be able to derive the curvature of the line segment from 's' and 'a'? And with that, reconstruct the circle? Nov 1, 2010 at 2:39
• Consider the further constraint that the arc segment must have constant curvature, and that we have two points we know the segment of the circular curve passes through. I feel intuitively the information is there for this calculation. Nov 1, 2010 at 2:44
• Remember that a chord divides a circle into a "small arc" and a "big arc" (tacitly excluding the case where the chord is a diameter). It should not be hard to find small arc-big arc pairs (the two implied circles are of different radii, of course) that have the same length. Nov 1, 2010 at 2:50
• Circles have constant curvature, so that restriction is moot. Nov 1, 2010 at 2:51

Using the notation of the figure you have linked to, we have

$$R \sin \frac{\theta}{2} = \frac{a}{2}$$

we can also write

$$\theta = \frac{s}{R} = \frac{2 s \sin \theta/2}{a}$$

From this equation, you can solve for $\theta$.

Once you have solved for $\theta$, you have

$$h = R - R \cos(\theta/2)$$

Since $R = a/(2 \sin \theta/2)$, we have

$$h = \frac{a}{2 \sin \theta/2} \left( 1 - \cos\left(\frac{s \sin\theta/2}{a}\right)\right)$$

• ok. I just saw J.M's comment about small and big arcs. My solution implicitly assumes that the arc length $s$ is the length of smaller segment of the circle. If you consider the other possibility (that the length s is the length of the larger segment), the solution you will get is $h = \frac{a}{2 \sin \theta/2} \left( 1 + \cos\left(\frac{s \sin\theta/2}{a}\right)\right)$ Nov 1, 2010 at 2:58
• Yes, apologies, we should assume that it is the smaller length of the circle! Nov 1, 2010 at 2:59
• I need this too. But in this solution, you give a height calculation including theta. Given only an arch length and a chord length (no radius) I don't know how to calculate theta. I tried deriving it myself, but arrived at an equality containing both cosine theta and theta squared, and I don't know how to solve it. Feb 8, 2011 at 21:39
• @rumtscho - You would have to solve for $\theta$ using the equation $\theta = \frac{2s \sin \theta/2}{a}$. $s$ and $a$ are known. You would solve for $\theta$ numerically in general. Feb 9, 2011 at 4:57
• With $\phi = \theta/2$ we get $h = \dfrac{a(1 - \cos \phi)}{2 \sin \phi} = \dfrac{a \sin \phi}{2 (1+\cos \phi)}$. Jan 3, 2020 at 13:03