Several Sneaky Circles

In last week’s exploration we uncovered many equilateral triangles hiding in a general triangle ABC. This week we’ll find circles.

Draw any triangle ABC. The line AHA perpendicular to BC is called the altitude though A, with HA at the foot of the altitude. (See the image below.) It can be shown that the three altitudes AHA, BHB, and CHC meet at a single point, H, called the orthocenter of triangle ABC.

Now, let’s put dots at a few important points on our triangle: First, dot the three altitude feet, HA, HB, and HC. Next, dot the midpoints of the sides of the triangle, which we’ll call MA, MB, and MC. Finally, dot the Euler points EA, EB, and EC, which are halfway between H (the orthocenter) and the vertices of our triangle. Today’s first miracle is that all nine of these dots lie on a single circle, aptly named the 9-point circle:

The 9-point circle
The 9-point circle of a triangle is the circle that miraculously passes through the triangle's altitude feet, edge midpoints, and Euler points.

Recall that it only takes three points to determine a circle, so nine on a single circle is very far from coincidence!

Another way to coax a circle out of triangle ABC is to “inscribe” one in the triangle by drawing a circle tangent to the three sides. This circle is called the incircle. Our second miracle is that the incircle and the 9-point circle, which were constructed in very different ways, nevertheless play nicely together: they are tangent! The point where they touch is known as the Feuerbach point of triangle ABC, named after Karl Feuerbach who discovered and proved this difficult fact in 1822.

The Feuerbach point
The 9-point circle and the incircle are miraculously tangent at the Feuerbach point.

But there are three other circles that, like the incircle, are tangent to all three lines of the triangle. These “exscribed” circles are called the excircles of triangle ABC, and as luck (or extraversions[1]) would have it, these are also tangent to the 9-point circle:

Tangencies of the 9-point circle with the incircle and excircles
The 9-point circle is also tangent to the excircles.

But wait, there’s more! It turns out that triangles ABC and HBC have the same 9-point circle, and so if we look at the incircle and excircles of triangle HBC, these will also be tangent to our 9-point circle. The same is true for triangles HCA and HAB, so we have found 16 circles all tangent to the nine-point circle!

16 tangencies with the 9-point circle
The 9-point circle is tangent to the incircle and excircles of triangles ABC, HBC, HCA, and HAB. These four circles for triangle HBC are shown in thick red.


  1. Recall that we used extraversions last week to go from one Morley triangle to another. Here, extraversions interchange the incircle and excircles. []

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