The computation of trigonometric functions is a complicated subject, which can today be avoided by most people because of the widespread availability of computers and scientific calculators that provide built-in trigonometric functions for any angle. This section, however, describes details of their computation in three important contexts: the historical use of trigonometric tables, the modern techniques used by computers, and a few "important" angles where simple exact values are easily found.
The first step in computing any trigonometric function is range reduction—reducing the given angle to a "reduced angle" inside a small range of angles, say 0 to π/2, using the periodicity and symmetries of the trigonometric functions.
Prior to computers, people typically evaluated trigonometric functions by interpolating from a detailed table of their values, calculated to many significant figures. Such tables have been available for as long as trigonometric functions have been described (see History below), and were typically generated by repeated application of the half-angle and angle-addition identities starting from a known value (such as sin(π/2) = 1).
Modern computers use a variety of techniques. One common method, especially on higher-end processors with floating point units, is to combine a polynomial or rational approximation (such as Chebyshev approximation, best uniform approximation, and Padé approximation, and typically for higher or variable precisions, Taylor and Laurent series) with range reduction and a table lookup—they first look up the closest angle in a small table, and then use the polynomial to compute the correction. Devices that lack hardware multipliers often use an algorithm called CORDIC (as well as related techniques), which uses only addition, subtraction, bitshift, and table lookup. These methods are commonly implemented in hardware floating-point units for performance reasons.
For very high precision calculations, when series expansion convergence becomes too slow, trigonometric functions can be approximated by the arithmetic-geometric mean, which itself approximates the trigonometric function by the (complex) elliptic integral.
Finally, for some simple angles, the values can be easily computed by hand using the Pythagorean theorem, as in the following examples. For example, the sine, cosine and tangent of any integer multiple of radians (3°) can be found exactly by hand.
Consider a right triangle where the two other angles are equal, and therefore are both radians (45°). Then the length of side b and the length of side a are equal; we can choose . The values of sine, cosine and tangent of an angle of radians (45°) can then be found using the Pythagorean theorem:
To determine the trigonometric functions for angles of π/3 radians (60 degrees) and π/6 radians (30 degrees), we start with an equilateral triangle of side length 1. All its angles are π/3 radians (60 degrees). By dividing it into two, we obtain a right triangle with π/6 radians (30 degrees) and π/3 radians (60 degrees) angles. For this triangle, the shortest side = 1/2, the next largest side =(√3)/2 and the hypotenuse = 1. This yields:
Read more about this topic: Cosec(x)
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