Friday, September 13, 2013

Find Snap Tangent Points

A common feature of CAD programs is support for tangent object snaps.  A line is drawn from some point, A, toward a circle with center C and radius r.  We want to find a point (or points), B, on the circle, such that AB is tangent to the circle.

Here's a sketch of the problem:

We are given the points A and C and the radius r.  The goal is to find B1 and B2.  We argue mainly for B1. The argument for B2 is the same.  We have assumed A is outside of the circle or else there are no solutions. (If you write code for this, you will need to check for this condition.)

Since AB1 is tangent to the circle and B1C is the radius of the circle, angle AB1C is a right angle.  The distances f and from A to C, say, d, may be calculated using the pythagorean theorem.  Now, we draw the altitude of triangle AB1C to E.  By similar triangles (ΔAB1C ~ ΔB1EC~ ΔAEB1) we determine that


and so, e = r2/d and a = f r/d.  We let δ be the normalized direction vector from C to A, namely,

Then point E is given by E = C + e δ.  Let δp= (δy, –δx), or the clockwise 90° rotation of δ.  Then points B1 and B2 are given by:

       B1 = E + a δp
       B2 = E – a δp,

which are the desired points.
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