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A shooting star forms a right triangle with earth and the sun, as shown below:
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Yeah it does. You setup the equation for the distance of r using the trig function cosine.
They want you to do this same thing, but using words.
My only trouble is where they want me to explain why you can only use x and y.
You see that r is a function of x and y (via the cosine function). There are three sides and you only have two pieces of information. If you have two sides, you can get the third. If you have one side and one angle, you can get all the sides. So basically, because you have 3 sides, you need two variables to get the third.
they mean "why you only need to use x and y"
because the cosine only needs those