# 5.4: Cross Products

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12

## Learning objectives

• Calculate the cross product of a pair of vectors.
• Apply the Right Hand Rule to correctly identify the direction of the vector product.
• Use the cross product to identify the direction perpendicular to a plane.

## Introduction

In the last section we discussed the dot product of two vectors. In this section we will discuss the other form of vector multiplication. The dot product of two vectors produced a scalar value; the cross product of the same two vectors will produce a vector quantity having a direction perpendicular to the original two vectors.

## Cross Product

The cross product of two vector quantities is another vector whose magnitude varies as the angle between the two original vectors changes. The cross product therefore sometimes referred to as the vector product of two vectors. The magnitude of the cross product represents the area of the parallelogram whose sides are defined by the two vectors, as shown in the figure below. Therefore, the maximum value for the cross product occurs when the two vectors are perpendicular to one another, but when the two vectors are parallel to one another the magnitude of the cross product is equal to zero.

Like the dot product, the cross product must satisfy several important properties of multiplication. The cross product is distributive,

But, unlike the dot product, the cross product is anti-commutative

## Computing the Cross Product

The algebraic form of the cross product equation is more complicated than that for the dot product. For two 3D vectors and ,

Another way to describe the process is to say that the cross product is the multiplication of one vector by the component of the other vector which is perpendicular to the first vector. In the diagram below are two vectors, A and B. A perpendicular line has been drawn radially outward from B towards A to create a right triangle with A as the hypotenuse.

The component of which is perpendicular to is given by A sin θ so the magnitude of the cross product can be written as

Likewise, the component of which is parallel to is given by B sin θ, so the cross product

The value of the cross product is maximized when the two vectors are perpendicular and zero when the two vectors are parallel to one another. When a vector is crossed with itself, the result is the zero vector since a vector has no component perpendicular to itself.

Also, the cross product of any vector with the zero vector is equal to zero since the magnitude of the zero vector is itself equal to 0.

We mentioned earlier, that the direction of the cross product is perpendicular to the plane defined by the two crossed vectors. For example, the cross product of two vectors in the x-y plane will be parallel to the z-axis. This still leaves two possible directions for the cross product, though: either or .

We use a right-hand-rule to indicate the direction of the cross product. Position the thumb and index finger of your right hand with the first vector along your thumb and the second vector along your index finger. Your middle finger, when extended perpendicular to your palm, will indicate the direction of the cross product of the two vectors.

As you can see in the diagram above, is along (coming up out of the page) while is along (going down into the page) and

Example: Calculate the cross product of the two vectors shown below.

Solution: Use the components of the two vectors to determine the cross product.

Since these two vectors are both in the x-y plane, their own z-components are both equal to 0 and the vector product will be parallel to the z axis.

We can check our answer using the sine version of the cross product, but first we need to know the angle between the two vectors. We can use the dot product to find θ, following the procedure in the first Example in the previous section. First use the components to find the dot product.

Then find the magnitudes of the two vectors:

Then use these magnitudes with the cosine version of the dot product to find θ.

Now use the sine of this angle and the two magnitudes to determine the cross product:

This is the same answer that we obtained from the component notation, which is good. We use the RHR to determine the direction of the vector product. If you place your thumb along vector A and your forefinger along vector B, your middle finger will point along and

## The Normal Vector

We can use the cross product and the definition of the unit vector to determine the direction which is perpendicular to a plane. In the previous example, the cross product of the two vectors had a magnitude given by

and we used the right hand rule to show that it pointed along such that

In general, we can define a normal vector, , which has a unity magnitude (i.e. magnitude equal to one) and which is perpendicular to a plane occupied by a pair of vectors, U and V.

For the vectors A and B in the previous problem

which is in the direction, as shown above using the right hand rule.

Example: The diagram shows two vectors A and B which define a plane passing through the origin. Use these two vectors to determine the normal vector to this plane. and

Solution: The normal vector is defined by

In this case, we obtain

Use the component version of the cross-product equation to find the components of

Next, calculate the magnitude of the cross product,

## Lesson Summary

One of the two ways to multiply vector quantities is the Vector Product. The vector product, also known as the cross product, multiplies one vector by the component of the second vector which is perpendicular to the first. The result of a scalar product of two vectors is always a vector quantity which is perpendicular to the plane defined by the first two vectors. There are two ways to calculate the dot product: and the magnitude of the cross product is given by . These two versions of the cross product can be use to determine the angle between two vectors. The cross product can also be used to identify the direction perpendicular to a plane.

## Practice Problems

1. Determine the magnitude and direction of the cross product for the two vectors and . Then use the cross product to determine the angle between the two vectors.
2. Determine the magnitude of the cross product of the two vectors shown below.
3. A plane passing through the origin is defined by the two vectors, and . Determine the equation of a unit vector representing a direction perpendicular to this plane.
4. Determine the area of a parallelogram whose sides are defined by the vectors and , lengths measured in centimeters.
5. Determine the magnitude of the cross product of the two vectors and .
6. Determine the equation for the unit vector perpendicular to the plane defined by the two vectors and .
7. Determine the area of the parallelogram whose sides are defined by and , lengths measured in millimeters.
8. Determine the magnitude and direction of the cross-product of these two vectors.

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