5.10: Vector Equation of a Line
Air traffic control is tracking two planes in the vicinity of their airport. At a given moment, one plane is at a location 45 km east and 120 km north of the airport at an altitude of 7.5 km. The second plane is located 63 km east and 96 km south of the airport at an altitude of 6.0 km. The first plane is flying directly toward the airport while the second plane is continuing at a constant altitude with a heading defined by the vector
(See Guided Practice #7 for a detailed solution)
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 PatrickJMT: Finding the Vector Equation of a Line
Guidance
You are probably very familiar with using y = mx + b, the slopeintercept form, as the equation of a line. While this equation works well in twodimensional space, it is insufficient to completely define the equation of a line in higher order spaces. To help you see this clearly, several people have developed javaapplets which allow one to rotate a vector and its coordinate system. Two of the best such applets can be accessed at http://www.univie.ac.at/future.media/moe/galerie/geom1/geom1.html#gb and http://www.walterfendt.de/m14e/line3d.htm. It would be a very good idea to spend some time with one or both of these applets before reading the rest of this section.
Lines in Space
In a twodimensional plane, a line can be represented by the equation y = mx + b, where m is the slope of the line and b is the yintercept. In threedimensional space, this equation can represent a line or a plane or the projection of a 3D line onto the xy plane. For example, in the diagram below, the line on the left passes through points P and Q. The equation in 2D space for this line is
The three orange lines in the diagram at right below can also be described by this equation. All three have slope
Therefore we can specify a particular line by requiring that the equations for both planes be simultaneously true. In a previous section we developed one equation for a plane given by d = n_{x} x_{o} n_{y} y_{o} n_{z} z_{o}. In this case Qy + Px  QP = 0 and z = 0 must both be satisfied for all points on the line passing through points P and Q.
Finding the Vector Equation of a Line
Another way to identify points on a line can be found using the vector addition method we discussed earlier in this chapter. To find the position vector,
The position vector
All other points on this line can be reached by traveling along the line from point P, therefore the position vector for any point on the line is given by
If we know the locations of two points on a line, we can determine the equation of the line. All points on a line fulfill the equation
General Vector Equations
In general, a vector equation is any function that takes any one or more variables and returns a vector. The vector equation of a line is an equation that identifies the position vector of every point along the line. This works for straight lines and for curves. For example, the vector equation
Example A
Write the equation of
Solution
Start by choosing two points on the line, say (3,0) and (6,5). Then
Finally, the vector equation of the line is
Example B
Write the vector equation of the line defined by the points (2, 3, 4) and (5, 2, 1).
Solution
These two points have position vectors
The equation of the line then becomes
Example C
Determine the equation for the line defined by the points P = (6, 7, 5) and Q = (3, 2, 11). Then find the position vector for a point, R, halfway between these two points.
Solution
The equation of the line then becomes
Since the vector
Vocabulary
Skew lines are lines that are not parallel but do not cross. Note that this is not possible in 2 dimensions, but is common in 3 dimensions.
A vector equation is any function that takes any one or more variables and returns a vector.
Guided Practice
Questions
1) Write the vector equation of the line defined by the points (5, 7, 3) and (2, 6, 4).
2) Are the two vectors
3) In physics, the motion of an object traveling at a constant speed is described by the equation
4) An object has a position of
5) Determine the vector equation of the straight line defined by the points (2, 2, 2) and (1, 3, 5).
6) Do the two lines
7) (concept question from introduction) Air traffic control is tracking two planes in the vicinity of their airport. At a given moment, one plane is at a location 45 km east and 120 km north of the airport at an altitude of 7.5 km. The second plane is located 63 km east and 96 km south of the airport at an altitude of 6.0 km. The first plane is flying directly toward the airport while the second plane is continuing at a constant altitude with a heading defined by the vector
Solutions
1) These two points have position vectors

v⃗=p⃗−q⃗=⟨(5−2),(−7−6),(3−(−4))⟩=⟨3,−13,7⟩ 
The equation of the line,
r⃗=q⃗+kv⃗ , then becomes 
r⃗=⟨2,6,−4⟩+k⟨3,−13,7⟩r⃗=⟨5,−7,3⟩+k⟨3,−13,7⟩
2) If the two vectors intersect, there must be a point identified by position vector \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{p}\end{align*} which satisfies the equations of both lines. In other words, we must be able to find values for d and f such that \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{D} = \overrightarrow{F}\end{align*} or \begin{align*}\left \langle 1, 1, 4\right \rangle + d \left \langle 1, 1, 1\right \rangle = \left \langle 2, 4, 7\right \rangle + f \left \langle 2, 1, 3\right \rangle\end{align*}.
 Each of the three components of vectors \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{D}\end{align*} and \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{F}\end{align*} must independently be equal if \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{D} = \overrightarrow{F}\end{align*}. This means that 1 + d = 2 + 2f, 1  d = 4 + f, and 4 + d = 7 + 3f Combining the first two equations gives: 1 + d  1  d = 2 + 2f + 4 + f which when simplified becomes 0 = 6 + 3f or f = 2. If we substitute this back into the first equation we obtain, 1 + d = 2 + 2(2) which when simplified becomes d = 3. If the two lines cross, f = 2 and d = 3 should satisfy each of the component equations.
 1 + d = 2 + 2f becomes 1 + (3) = 2 + 2(2) or 2 = 2
 1  d = 4 + f becomes 1  (3) = 4 + (2) or +2 = +2
 4 + d = 7 + 3f becomes 4 + (3) = 7 + 3(2) or +1 = +1
 All three equations are equally satisfied, so the two lines do intersect and the point of intersection is (2, 2, 1).
3) \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{s_t} = \overrightarrow{s_i} + \overrightarrow{v}t = \left \langle 2, 3, 4\right \rangle + t\left \langle 1, 1, 2\right \rangle = \left \langle 2 + t, 3 + t, 4  2t\right \rangle\end{align*}
 At t = 10s, \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{s_{10}} = \left \langle 2 + 10, 3 + 10, 4  2(10)\right \rangle = \left \langle 12, 13,  16\right \rangle\end{align*}
4) The vector equation describing the motion of the object is
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{s} = \overrightarrow{s_i} + \overrightarrow{v}t = \left \langle 3, 3, 6\right \rangle + t \left \langle 10, 7, 3\right \rangle = \left \langle 3 + 10t, 3 + 7t, 6 + 3t\right \rangle\end{align*}
 The object’s position at t = 3s is obtained from the vector equation:
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{s_3} = \overrightarrow{s_i} + \overrightarrow{v}t = \left \langle 3, 3, 6\right \rangle + (3) \left \langle 10, 7, 3\right \rangle = \left \langle 3 + 10(3), 3 + 7(3), 6 + 3(3)\right \rangle =\end{align*} \begin{align*}\left \langle 33, 24, 15\right \rangle\end{align*}
 The object’s position at t = 5s is obtained from the vector equation:
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{s_5} = \overrightarrow{s_i} + \overrightarrow{v}t = \left \langle 3, 3, 6\right \rangle + (5) \left \langle 10, 7, 3\right \rangle = \left \langle 3 + 10(5), 3 + 7(5), 6 + 3(5)\right \rangle =\end{align*} \begin{align*}\left \langle 53, 38, 21\right \rangle\end{align*}
 The distance traveled between these two points is the magnitude of the vector starting at (33, 24, 15) and ending at (53, 38, 21).
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{\triangle s} = \overrightarrow{s_5}  \overrightarrow{s_3} = \left \langle 53, 38, 21\right \rangle  \left \langle 33, 24, 15\right \rangle = \left \langle 20, 14, 6\right \rangle\end{align*}
 Now we can use the Pythagorean theorem to determine the magnitude of the vector.
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{\triangle s} = \sqrt{a^2 + b^2 + c^2} = \sqrt{(20)^2 + (14)^2 + (6)^2} = 25.1\end{align*} meters
5) These two points have position vectors \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{p} = \left \langle 2, 2, 2\right \rangle\end{align*} and \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{q} = \left \langle 1, 3, 5\right \rangle \end{align*}. The vector of the line connecting the two points is given by
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{v} = \overrightarrow{p}  \overrightarrow{q} = \left \langle (2  1), (2  3), (2  5)\right \rangle = \left \langle 1, 1, 3\right \rangle\end{align*}
 The equation of the line, \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{r} = \overrightarrow{p} + k\overrightarrow{v}\end{align*}, then becomes
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{r} = \left \langle 2, 2, 2\right \rangle + k \left \langle 1, 1, 3\right \rangle \qquad \qquad \overrightarrow{r} = \left \langle 2, 2, 2\right \rangle + k \left \langle 1, 1, 3\right \rangle\end{align*}
6) If the two vectors intersect, there must be a point identified by position vector \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{p}\end{align*} which satisfies the equations of both lines. In other words, we must be able to find values for r and k such that \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{R} = \overrightarrow{K}\end{align*} or \begin{align*}\left \langle 4, 4, 2\right \rangle + r \left \langle 3, 7, 2\right \rangle = \left \langle 9, 8, 7\right \rangle + k \left \langle 2, 1, 3\right \rangle\end{align*}.
 Each of the three components of vectors \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{R}\end{align*} and \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{K}\end{align*} must independently be equal if \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{R} = \overrightarrow{K}\end{align*}. This means that 4  3r = 9  2k, 4 + 7r = 8 + k, and 2 + 2r = 7 + 3k
 Solving the second equation for k gives 12 + 7r = k. Now substitute this into one of the other two equations: 4  3r = 9  2(12 + 7r) or 4  3r = 9  24  14r which simplifies to 19 = 11r or \begin{align*}r = \frac{19} {11} = 1.727.\end{align*} Substitute this value into one of the other equations: 2 + 2(1.727) = 7 + 3k which becomes 2  3.454 = 7 + 3k. Solving for k gives k = 4.151. If the two lines cross, r = 1.727 and k = 4.151 should satisfy each of the component equations.
 4  3r = 9  2k becomes 4  3 (1.727) = 9  2(4.151) or 1.181 = 17.302 Since even this first equation does not hold true, these two lines are skew and do not intersect.
7) (concept question from introduction) The first thing we need to do is to determine the position vectors of the two planes. Define our airport as the origin of coordinates and define \begin{align*}\hat{x}\end{align*} = east, \begin{align*}\hat{y}\end{align*} = north, and \begin{align*}\hat{z}\end{align*} = upward. Call the position of plane #1, P, and the position of plane #2, Q. This gives \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{p} = \left \langle 45, 120, 7.5\right \rangle\end{align*} and \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{q} = \left \langle63, 96, 6.0\right \rangle\end{align*}
 Plane #1 is heading directly toward the airport. The vector from the position of plane #1 to the origin is given by
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{v} = \overrightarrow{o}  \overrightarrow{p} = \left \langle (0  45), (0  120), (0  7.5)\right \rangle\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{v} = \overrightarrow{p}  \overrightarrow{q} = \left \langle 45, 120, 7.5\right \rangle\end{align*}
 The equation of the line representing plane #1’s motion then becomes
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{r_1} = \left \langle 45, 120, 7.5\right \rangle + k_1 \left \langle 45, 120, 7.5\right \rangle \qquad \overrightarrow{r_1} = \left \langle 45, 120, 7.5\right \rangle +\end{align*} \begin{align*}k_1 \left \langle 45, 120, 7.5\right \rangle\end{align*}
 Plane #2 continues at a constant altitude with a heading \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{h_2} = \left \langle 3, 4, 0\right \rangle\end{align*}. The equation of the line representing plane #2’s motion then becomes
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{r_2} = \left \langle 63, 96, 6.0\right \rangle + k_2 \left \langle 3, 4, 0\right \rangle \qquad \qquad \overrightarrow{r_2} = \left \langle 63, 96, 6.0\right \rangle + k_2 \left \langle 3, 4, 0\right \rangle\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{r_2} = \left \langle 63, 96, 6.0\right \rangle + k_2 \left \langle 3, 4, 0\right \rangle\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{r_1} = \left \langle 45, 120, 7.5\right \rangle + k_1 \left \langle 45, 120, 7.5\right \rangle\end{align*}
 If the paths of the two planes intersect, the position of that intersection must have coordinates which satisfy both equations.
 To satisfy both equations, r_{1}_{x} must equal r_{2}_{x}, r_{1}_{y} must equal r_{2}_{y}, and r_{1}_{z} must equal r_{2}_{z}. This means that 45  45k_{1} = 63 + 3k_{2}, 120  120k_{1} = 96 + 4k_{2}, and 7.5  7.5k_{1} = 6.0 + 0k_{2} must all be simultaneously true.
 The first equation simplifies to 15  15k_{1} = 21 + k_{2} or k_{2} = 6  15k_{1}. The second simplifies to 30  30k_{1} = 24 + k_{2} or k_{2} = 54  30k_{1}. The third equation simplifies to 7.5  7.5k_{1} = 6 or \begin{align*}k_1 = \frac{1} {5}\end{align*}.
 Inserting the value of k_{1} from the third equation into the first two equations, we find \begin{align*}k_2 = 6  15 \left (\frac{1} {5}\right ) = 6  3 = 9\end{align*} and \begin{align*}k_2 = 54  30k_1 = 54  30 \left (\frac{1} {5}\right ) = 54  6 = 48\end{align*} Since k_{2} = 33 and k_{2} = 0 cannot be simultaneously true, the two planes’ paths do not cross.
 Note: There are other ways to reason through this problem. Can you find some? (Hint: Think of the geometry in 2dimensions, or focus on the altitude as a way to simplify this problem).
Practice
Write the vector equation of the line defined by the the following points:
 \begin{align*}(2, 2, 5)\end{align*} and \begin{align*}(1, 5, 4)\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}(2, 9, 5)\end{align*} and \begin{align*}(8, 4, 6)\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}(15, 3, 3)\end{align*} and \begin{align*}(4, 3, 9)\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}(1, 1, 7)\end{align*} and \begin{align*}(3, 11, 8)\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}(1, 3, 2)\end{align*} and \begin{align*} (5, 3, 1)\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}(25, 17, 42)\end{align*} and \begin{align*} (16, 12, 23)\end{align*}
Determine if the two vectors are skew lines or if they intersect each other.
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{D} = \left \langle 2, 3, 1 \right \rangle + d\left \langle 5, 3, 6 \right \rangle\end{align*} and \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{F} = \left \langle 5, 3, 5 \right \rangle + f\left \langle 15, 3, 3 \right \rangle\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{D} = \left \langle 3, 4, 7 \right \rangle + d\left \langle 3, 3, 2 \right \rangle\end{align*} and \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{F} = \left \langle 2, 11, 7 \right \rangle + f\left \langle 2, 11, 7 \right \rangle\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{D} = \left \langle 15, 3, 3 \right \rangle + d\left \langle 3, 11, 8 \right \rangle\end{align*} and \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{F} = \left \langle 5, 3, 6 \right \rangle + f\left \langle 1, 4, 6 \right \rangle\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{D} = \left \langle 13, 1, 6 \right \rangle + d\left \langle 5, 4, 12 \right \rangle\end{align*} and \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{F} = \left \langle 6, 9, 0 \right \rangle + f\left \langle 21, 0, 14 \right \rangle\end{align*}
Identify the position vector for the midpoint of each line (you already found the vector equations in part 1)
 \begin{align*}(2, 2, 5)\end{align*} and \begin{align*}(1, 5, 4)\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}(2, 9, 5)\end{align*} and \begin{align*}(8, 4, 6)\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}(15, 3, 3)\end{align*} and \begin{align*}(4, 3, 9)\end{align*}
 \begin{align*}(1, 1, 7)\end{align*} and \begin{align*}(3, 11, 8)\end{align*}
Use the vector equation, and the following values for t: t = 3s and t = 5s. Distance measured in meters.
 An object has a position of \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{s_i} = \left \langle 3, 5, 1 \right \rangle\end{align*} at t = 0 and a velocity of\begin{align*}\overrightarrow{v} = \left \langle 2, 7, 3 \right \rangle\end{align*}
 An object has a position of \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{s_i} = \left \langle 1, 4, 8 \right \rangle\end{align*} at t = 0 and a velocity of\begin{align*}\overrightarrow{v} = \left \langle 9, 7, 3 \right \rangle\end{align*}
 An object has a position of \begin{align*}\overrightarrow{s_i} = \left \langle 1, 2, 3 \right \rangle\end{align*} at t = 0 and a velocity of\begin{align*}\overrightarrow{v} = \left \langle 3, 1, 2 \right \rangle\end{align*}
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position vector
A position vector describes the straightline travel between a starting point (usually the origin) and the location of a second point on a coordinate plane.Skew lines
Skew lines are lines that are in different planes and never intersect.vector equation
A vector equation is any function that takes any one or more variables and returns a vector.Image Attributions
Here you will learn how to identify a line in three dimensions as the intersection of two planes. You will also explore the process of finding the vector equation of a line given two points on that line.