This is one of the sangaku problems (see pic).
Pretty much all the information given can be read from the picture.
Can someone point me in the right direction? How do you approach such a problem?
Here's how I would approach it (the hard way- someone cleverer may be able to find a simpler way):
Start by setting up a coordinate system such that the origin is at the bottom of the large (radius 3) circle and the y axis is a diameter. Then that circle has equation or . The next circle, with radius 2, is tangent to that first circle at (0, 6) and so must have center at (0, 4) and equation . Finally, the circle with radius 1 has center at (0, 1) and so equation .
In terms of that coordinate system, the problem is to find a, b, and r so that is tangent to all three of those circles.
So we can assume that and since the circle is in the first quadrant, given that (0,0) is at the bottom of the big circle.
From your pointers I was thinking to determine where each of the "known" circles intersects with the "r-circle". I turned the equations a bit and I ended up going in circles (no pun intended).
Intersection between the biggest and the r-circle:
Intersection between circle with radius 2 and the r-circle:
As far as I know this gives me no more information on how to isolate a, b and r. Or am I wrong?
Another idea I had in mind is to construct a right triangle by connecting the radiuses:
Would that be the correct value of r?
(also, i'm interested in your way of doing it, so i'd very much like to see how to proceed from there).
Problems of that type can be solved easily only if you apply inversive geometry.
Few years ago I solved a similar problem with a slight difference the two circles inside were equal having as r the 1/4 of the biger circle.
the interesting point is that the general term of the sequence of the circles inscribed and touching each other can be calculated.
The nth term of the sequence is Rn=R/[(n-1)^2+2]
and expresses the radius of the nth circle of the sequence inscribed incide the circle where R is the radius of the big circle.