Altitude

Triangles contain special segments like perpendicular bisector, median, and altitude. When you think of altitude, you may think of the increasing elevations of mountain ranges; the term altitude also has its place in Geometry, however, and it refers to the height of a triangle. 

Altitude Altitude

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    In this article, we will understand the concept of altitudes in triangles and their related terms in detail. We will learn how to calculate the altitude with respect to different types of triangles.

    What is altitude?

    A perpendicular segment from a vertex to the opposite side – or line containing the opposite side – is called an altitude of the triangle.

    Triangles, Altitude, StudySmarter

    Triangles with altitude, StudySmarter Originals

    The altitude is measured as the distance from the vertex to the base and so it is also known as the height of a triangle. Every triangle has three altitudes, and these altitudes may lie outside, inside, or on the side of a triangle. Let's take a look at how it may look.

    Triangles, different altitude, StudySmarterAltitudes with different positions, ck12.org

    Properties of an altitude

    Here are some of the properties of altitude:

    • An altitude makes an angle of 90°on the side opposite from the vertex.
    • The location of altitude changes depending on the type of triangle.
    • As the triangle has three vertices, it has three altitudes.
    • The point where these three altitudes intersect is called the orthocenter of the triangle.

    Altitude formula for different triangles

    There are different forms of altitude formulas based on the type of triangle. We will look at the altitude formula for triangles in general as well as specifically for scalene triangles, isosceles triangles, right triangles, and equilateral triangles, including brief discussions of how these formulas are derived.

    General altitude formula

    As altitude is used to find the area of a triangle, we can derive the formula from the area itself.

    Area of a triangle=12×b×h, where b is the base of triangle and h is the height/ altitude. So from this, we can deduce the height of a triangle as follows:

    Area = 12×b×h 2 × Area = b×h 2 × Areab = h

    Altitude (h)=(2×Area)/b

    For a triangleABC, the area is81 cm2with a base length of9 cm. Find the altitude length for this triangle.

    Solution: Here we are given the area and base for the triangleABC. So we can directly apply the general formula to find the length of altitude.

    Altitude h= 2×Areabase =2×819 = 18 cm.

    Altitude formula for scalene triangle

    The triangle which has different side lengths for all three sides is known as the scalene triangle. Here Heron's formula is used to derive the altitude.

    Heron's formula is the formula to find the area of a triangle based on the length of sides, perimeter, and semi-perimeter.

    Triangles, Scelene triangle Altitude, StudySmarterAltitude for scalene triangle, StudySmarter Originals

    Area of a triangleABC(by Heron's formula)=ss-xs-ys-z

    Here s is the semi perimeter of the triangle (i.e., s=x+y+z2) and x, y, z are the lengths of sides.

    Now using the general formula of the area and equating it with Heron's formula we can obtain the altitude,

    Area=12×b×h

    ss-xs-ys-z=12×b×h

    h=2(ss-xs-ys-z)b

    So, the altitude for a scalene triangle: h=2(s(s-x)(s-y)(s-z))b.

    In a scalene triangleABC, AD is the altitude with base BC. The length of all three sides AB, BC, and AC are 12, 16, and 20, respectively. The perimeter for this triangle is given as 48 cm. Calculate the length of the altitude AD.

    Triangles, Scelene triangle Altitude, StudySmarterScalene triangle with unknown height, StudySmarter Originals

    Solution: Herex=12 cm, y=16 cm, z=20 cmare given. Base BC has a length of 16 cm. To calculate the length of altitude, we need a semiperimeter. Let's first find the value of the semiperimeter from the perimeter.

    Semiperimeter s =perimeter2 = 482= 24 cm.

    Now we can apply the formula of altitude to get the measure of altitude.

    Altitude for scalene triangle h=2(s(s-x)(s-y)(s-z))b

    =224(24-12)(24-16)(24-20)16=2×9616 = 12

    So, the length of altitude for this scalene triangle is 12 cm.

    Altitude formula for isosceles triangle

    An isosceles triangle is a triangle whose two sides are equal. The altitude of an isosceles triangle is the perpendicular bisector of that triangle with its opposite side. We can derive its formula using the properties of the isosceles triangle and Pythagoras' theorem.

    Triangles, Isosceles triangle Altitude, StudySmarterAltitude in Isosceles triangle, StudySmarter Originals

    As triangleABC is an isosceles triangle, sides AB=ACwith length x. Here we use one of the properties for an isosceles triangle, which states that the altitude bisects its base side into two equal parts.

    12BC =DC =BD

    Now applying Pythagoras' theorem onABD we get:

    AB2 = AD2 + BD2AB2 = AD2 + 12BC2AD2 =AB2 - 12BC2

    Now substituting all the values of the given side we get:

    h2 = x2 - 14y2 h = x2 - 14y2

    Hence, the altitude for the isosceles triangle ish = x2 - 14y2, where x is the side lengths, y is the base, and h is the altitude.

    Find the altitude of an isosceles triangle, if the base is3 inchesand the length of two equal sides is5 inches.

    Triangles, Isosceles triangle altitude, StudySmarterIsosceles triangle with unknown altitude, StudySmarter Originals

    Solution: According to the formula of altitude for the isosceles triangle, we havex=5, y=3.

    Altitude for an isosceles triangle:h = x2 - 14y2

    = (5)2 - 1432= 912

    So, the altitude for the given isosceles triangle is 912 inches.

    Altitude formula for right triangle

    A right triangle is a triangle with one angle as90°, and the altitude from one of the vertices to the hypotenuse can be explained with help from an important statement called the Right Triangle Altitude Theorem. This theorem gives the altitude formula for the right triangle.

    Triangles, Right triangle Altitude, StudySmarterRight triangle altitude, StudySmarter Originals

    Let's understand the theorem first.

    Right Triangle Altitude Theorem: The altitude from the right angle vertex to the hypotenuse is equal to the geometric mean of the two segments of the hypotenuse.

    Proof: From the given figure AC is the altitude of the right-angle triangle ABD. Now using the Right Triangle Similarity Theorem, we get that two triangles ACD and ACB are similar.

    Right Triangle Similarity Theorem: If an altitude is drawn from the right angle vertex to the hypotenuse side of the right triangle, then the two new triangles formed are similar to the original triangle and are also similar to each other.

    ACD ~ ACB.

    DCAC=ACCB AC2 =DC×CB h2 = xy h =xy

    Hence from the above theorem, we can get the formula for altitude.

    Altitude for a right triangleh =xy, where x and y are the lengths on either side of the altitude which together make up the hypotenuse.

    In the given right triangleABC, AD =3 cm and DC = 6 cm. Find the length of altitude BD in the given triangle.

    Triangles, Right triangle altitude, StudySmarterRight triangle with unknown altitude, StudySmarter Originals

    Solution: We will use the Right Angle Altitude Theorem to calculate the altitude.

    Altitude for right triangle: h =xy

    =3×6 = 32

    Hence the length of the altitude for the right triangle is32 cm.

    Note: We cannot use the Pythagoras' theorem to calculate the altitude of the right triangle as not enough information is provided. So, we use the Right Triangle Altitude Theorem to find the altitude.

    Altitude formula for equilateral triangle

    The equilateral triangle is a triangle with all sides and angles equal respectively. We can derive the formula of altitude by using either Heron's formula or Pythagoras' formula. The altitude of an equilateral triangle is also considered a median.

    Triangles, Equilateral triangle Altitude, StudySmarterEquilateral triangle altitude, StudySmarter Originals

    Area of a triangleABC(by Heron's formula)=ss-xs-ys-z

    And we also know that Area of triangle =12×b×h

    So using both the above equation we get:

    h=2 s ( s a ) ( s b ) ( s c )base

    Now the perimeter of an equilateral triangle is 3x. So semiperimeter s=3x2, and all the sides are equal.

    h=23x23x2-x3x2-x3x2-xx =23x2x2x2x2x =2x×x234 =3x2

    Altitude for equilateral triangle:h =3x2, where h is the altitude and x is the length for all three equal sides.

    For an equilateral triangleXYZ, XY, YZ, and ZX are equal sides with the length of10 cm.Calculate the length of the altitude for this triangle.

    Triangles, Equilateral triangle altitude, StudySmarterEquilateral triangle with unknown altitude, StudySmarter Originals

    Solution: Herex=10 cm. Now we will apply the formula of altitude for an equilateral triangle.

    Altitude for an equilateral triangle:h =3x2 =3×102 = 53

    Hence for this equilateral triangle, the length of altitude is53 cm.

    Concurrency of altitudes

    We discussed in the properties of altitude that all three altitudes of a triangle intersect at a point called the orthocenter. Let's understand the concepts of concurrency and orthocenter position in different triangles.

    All three altitudes of a triangle are concurrent; that is, they intersect at a point. This point of concurrency is called the orthocenter of a triangle.

    We can calculate the coordinates of the orthocenter using the vertex coordinates of the triangle.

    Position of the orthocenter in a triangle

    The position of the orthocenter may vary depending on the type of triangle and altitudes.

    Acute Triangle

    The orthocenter in an acute triangle lies inside the triangle.

    Triangles, Acute triangle Orthocenter, StudySmarterAcute triangle Orthocenter, StudySmarter Originals

    Right Triangle

    The orthocenter of the right triangle lies on the right angle vertex.

    Triangles, Right triangle Orthocenter, StudySmarterRight triangle Orthocenter, StudySmarter Originals

    Obtuse Triangle

    In an obtuse triangle, the orthocenter lies outside the triangle.

    Triangles, Obtuse triangle Orthocenter, StudySmarterObtuse triangle Orthocenter, StudySmarter Originals

    Applications of Altitude

    Here are a few applications of altitude in a triangle:

    1. The foremost application of altitude is to determine the orthocenter of that triangle.
    2. Altitude can also be used to calculate the area of a triangle.

    Altitude - Key takeaways

    • A perpendicular segment from a vertex to the opposite side (or line containing the opposite side) is called an altitude of the triangle.
    • Every triangle has three altitudes and these altitudes may lie outside, inside, or on the side of a triangle.
    • Altitude for scalene triangle is: h=2(s(s-x)(s-y)(s-z))b.
    • Altitude for the isosceles triangle is:h = x2 - 14y2.
    • Altitude for a right triangle is:h =xy.
    • Altitude for equilateral triangle is:h =3x2.
    • All the three altitudes of a triangle are concurrent; that is, they intersect at a point called the orthocenter.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Altitude

    What is the altitude of a triangle? 

    A perpendicular segment from a vertex to the opposite side or line containing the opposite side is called an altitude of the triangle.  

    How to find the altitude of a triangle?

    We can find the altitude of a triangle from the area of that triangle

    What is the difference between median and altitude of a triangle? 

    Altitude is the perpendicular line segment from a vertex to opposite side. Whereas, median is a line segment from one vertex to the middle of opposite side.

    What is the formula for finding the altitude of a triangle?

    The general formula for altitude is as follows:

    Altitude (h)

    What is the rules in finding the altitude of a triangle?

    The rule of finding the altitude is to first identify the type of triangle.

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    Team Altitude Teachers

    • 9 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
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