The Unit circle reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Unit circle

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Unit circle
Illustration of a unit circle.
t is an angle measure.
Larger image with several angles labeled

In mathematics, a unit circle is a circle with unit radius, i.e., a circle whose radius is 1. Frequently, especially in trigonometry, "the" unit circle is the circle of radius 1 centered at the origin (0, 0) in the Cartesian coordinate system in the Euclidean plane.

The variables x and y for every point (x, y) on the unit circle in the first quadrant are the lengths of the legs of a right triangle with hypotenuse length 1. Therefore, the Pythagorean theorem states that x and y are related by:

Since for all x, the above equation is valid for points where x or y are negative as well (i.e. not in the first quadrant).

One may also use other notions of "distance" to define other "unit circles"; see the article on normed vector space for examples.

Table of contents
1 Trigonometric functions in the unit circle
2 As a group
3 Terminology
4 See also
5 External link

Trigonometric functions in the unit circle

In a unit circle, several interesting things relating to trigonometric functions may be defined, with the given notation:

A point on the unit circle, pointed to by a certain vector from the origin with the angle from the -axis has the coordinates:

The equation of the circle above also immediately gives us the well-known "trigonometric 1":

The unit circle also gives an intuitive way of realizing that sine and cosine are periodic functions, with the identities

for any integer k.

This identity comes from the fact that (x,y) coordinates remain the same after the angle t is increased or decreased by one revolution in the circle (). The notion of sine, cosine, and other trigonometric functions only makes sense with angles more than zero or less than when working with right triangles, but in the unit circle, angles outside this range have sensible, intuitive meanings.

As a group

The multiplication of two complex numbers makes the unit circle into a group, called the circle group, when the point

is identified with

The group law is to take the sum of the angles, modulo integer multiples of . The circle group is also called U(1), the first unitary group, which points out its basic place in the theory of Lie groups. In fact the circle group is a compact Lie group, and any compact Lie group G of dimension ≥ 1 has a subgroup isomorphic with it. That means that, thinking in terms of symmetry, a compact symmetry group acting continuously can be expected to have one-parameter circle subgroups acting; the consequences in physical systems are seen for example at rotational invariance, and spontaneous symmetry breaking.

The circle group has many subgroups, but its only closed subgroups consist of roots of unity: there is one such, that is cyclic of order n, for each integer n ≥ 1.


Geometers and Topologists use different terminology to refer to the above object. It is important to understand the exact context in which this terminology is being used.

Geometrical terminology

Geometers refer to the unit circle as S2.

Topological terminology

Topologists refer to the unit circle as S1.

See also

External link