1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Intuition for arc length, angle and radius formula

  1. Aug 24, 2012 #1
    I don't understand the intuition/proof of why arc length = arc angle * radius. This may be partially because I don't fully understand the concept of radians, but anyhow please help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 24, 2012 #2

    Well, what's the arc length of a complete circle? Just [itex]\,2\pi r\,\,,\,r=\,[/itex] the circle's radius, and since [itex]\,2\pi\,\, radians=360^\circ[/itex] , we

    just "adjust" the angle of the arc...

  4. Aug 24, 2012 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    You have the definition of a radian: 1 radian is measure of the central angle of a circle that subtends an arc of length equal to the radius of the circle.

    Now say you have an arc of length ##s## subtended by a central angle ##\theta## measured in radians. Then, since the arc length is proportional to the central angle and a central angle of ##\theta= 1## radian subtends an arc of length ##r##,$$
    \frac s \theta = \frac r 1$$which gives ##s = r\theta##.
  5. Aug 24, 2012 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    To help you (the OP, not LCKurtz) understand this a bit better, sketch a unit circle with its center at the origin. Draw a radius out from the center to the point (1, 0). Draw another radius from the center so that the radius makes an angle of 60° with the x-axis. Connect the two points where the two radii intersect the circle. You should have an equilateral triangle, with all three sides of length 1 and all three angles of measure 60°.
    The length along the circle between the two intersection points is a bit larger than 1, since the straight line distance is equal to 1.

    If you move the 2nd radius slightly clockwise the right amount, you'll get an arc length that is exactly 1. The central angle between the first radius and the repositioned radius will be a few degrees less than 60°, approximately 57.3°. That's the degree measure of 1 radian.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook