Question
A ship sailing in the Gulf Stream is heading $25.0^\circ$ west of north at a speed of 4.00 m/s relative to the water. Its velocity relative to the Earth is 4.80 m/s $5.00^\circ$ west of north. What is the velocity of the Gulf Stream? (The velocity obtained is typical for the Gulf Stream a few hundred kilometers off the east coast of the United States.)
$1.72 \textrm{ m/s, } 47.7^\circ \textrm{ E of N}$
Note: At 8:00 I should have written a negative sign in the denominator of the fraction that we're taking the inverse sign of when solving for alpha. Nevertheless, I did type the negative sign into my calculator (see the third screenshot), so the answer is correct.
Solution Video

# OpenStax College Physics Solution, Chapter 3, Problem 66 (Problems & Exercises) (9:09) View sample solution

## Calculator Screenshots   Video Transcript

Submitted by victo on Mon, 01/13/2020 - 18:42

Hi! These videos are so great!
Question for this one is when solving b), when isolating for angle alpha by taking the inverse cosine, why isn't that equation divided by -2*Vwe*Vws ? You have 2*Vwe*Vws (aka no negative sign in front of the 2). Thanks!

Submitted by ShaunDychko on Tue, 01/14/2020 - 15:42

Hello, thanks for the feedback and I'm really glad the videos are helpful!
It turns out I got a bit lucky here. The negative should be there, as you noticed, but it wouldn't change the answer. Cosine of a number equals the cosine of the negative of that number (see odd/even identities here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_trigonometric_identities#Reflecti…), which means the inverse cosine gives the same answer since calculators always default to the 1st quadrant (0 to 90) answer. Put in other words, looking at the cosine graph, you'll see it is symmetric about the y-axis, which is to say that each angle, and it's negative counterpart, have the same y-coordinate. This is a graphical way of saying the same thing. Inverse cosine asks the calculator "which angle has this y-coordinate on the cosine graph". Since there are an infinite number of answers (many angles have the same y-coordinate, in other words) the calculator has to pick one, and it's designed to pick the one between 0 and 90 degrees. Had I remembered the negative sign, the answer would still be the same. I'll make a note in the quick answer for other students, and thank you for noticing this.
All the best,
Shaun