For example we have the vector $8i + 4j - 6k$, how can we find a unit vector perpendicular to this vector?

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Let $\vec{v}=x\vec{i}+y\vec{j}+z\vec{k}$, a perpendicular vector to yours. Their inner product (the dot product - $\vec{u}.\vec{v}$ ) should be equal to 0, therefore: $$8x+4y-6z=0 \tag{1}$$ Choose for example x,y and find z from equation 1. In order to make it's lengh equal to 1, calculate $\|\vec{v}\|=\sqrt{x^2+y^2+z^2}$ and divide $\vec{v}$ with it. Your unit vector would be: $$\vec{u}=\frac{\vec{v}}{\|\vec{v}\|}$$

  • 3
    "Choose for example x,y .." - cannot both be 0 (zero) – slashmais Feb 16 '17 at 8:23

Every answer here gives the equation $8a+4b-6c=0$. None mentions that this equation represents a plane perpendicular to the given vector. I am sure that the omission was an oversight of each respondent. But it deserves mention and emphasis. In the plane perpendicular to any vector, the set of vectors of unit length forms a circle. So answers will vary. The vectors $(-1,2,0)^t$ and $(2,0,3)^t$ can be chosen to be a basis for the solution space of the plane: solve for a, divide by 8, and let $2b$ and $3c$ be independent variables. You can divide each by its length $\sqrt{5}$ and $\sqrt{13}$ respectively, and take a trigonometric combination of them to get a general solution.

Congrats on 10'000+ views! I'd like to combine the above fine answers into an algorithm.

Given a vector $\vec x$ not identically zero, one way to find $\vec y$ such that $\vec x^T \vec y = 0$ is:

  1. start with $\vec y' = \vec 0$ (all zeros);
  2. find $m$ such that $x_m \neq 0$, and pick any other index $n \neq m$;
  3. set $y'_n = x_m$ and $y'_m = -x_n$, setting potentially two elements of $\vec y'$ non-zero (maybe one if $x_n=0$, doesn't matter);
  4. and finally normalize your vector to unit length: $\vec y = \frac{\vec y'}{\|\vec y'\|}.$

(I'm referring to the $n$th element of a vector $\vec v$ as $v_n$.)

  • This is the best answer here. – plasmacel Feb 8 at 20:36

Two steps:

First, find a vector $a\,{\bf i}+b\,{\bf j}+c\,{\bf k}$ that is perpendicular to $8\,{\bf i}+4\,{\bf j}-6\,{\bf k}$. (Set the dot product of the two equal to 0 and solve. You can actually set $a$ and $b$ equal to 1 here, and solve for $c$.)

Then divide that vector by its length to make it a unit vector. This unit vector will still be perpendicular to $8\,{\bf i}+4\,{\bf j}-6\,{\bf k}$ .

A vector $v=ai+bj+ck$ is perpendicular to $w=8i+4j-6k$ if and only if $$v\cdot w=8a+4b-6c=0.$$ So for example, we could choose $a=1,b=1,c=2$, so that $v=i+j+2k$. But this is not a unit vector: $$\|v\|=\sqrt{a^2+b^2+c^2}=\sqrt{1^2+1^2+2^2}=\sqrt{6}.$$ However, for any number $t$, it is the case that $\|tv\|=|t|\cdot\|v\|$, and $(tv)\cdot w=t(v\cdot w)$. This shows us how to modify our vector $v$ to get a unit vector that still retains the property of being perpendicular to $w$. Specifically, $$u=\frac{1}{\sqrt{6}}\cdot v=\left(\frac{1}{\sqrt{6}}\right)i+\left(\frac{1}{\sqrt{6}}\right)j+\left(\frac{2}{\sqrt{6}}\right)k$$ satisfies $$\|u\|=\frac{1}{\sqrt{6}}\|v\|=\frac{1}{\sqrt{6}}\cdot\sqrt{6}=1,$$ so that $u$ is unit vector, and $$u\cdot w=\frac{1}{\sqrt{6}}(v\cdot w)=\frac{1}{\sqrt{6}}\cdot0=0,$$ so that $u$ is perpendicular to $w=8i+4j-6k$.

An automated procedure:

Take a standard vector $\vec e_k$ which is not parallel to $\vec v$, and form the cross product $\vec e_k\times\vec v$, which is guaranteed to be orthogonal to $\vec v$.

The crux of the method is to take the $\vec e_k$ which is "the less parallel" to $\vec v$, i.e. that minimizes the dot product: take the index $k$ corresponding to the smallest $|v_k|$, and you are on the safe side.

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    Thank you for thinking outside the box! Of course, any vector not parallel to v will produce a perpendicular when crossed with v. This is actually a better answer than most because it is a direct computation, no equation solving required. – richard1941 May 23 at 3:50

You are just looking to a vector $(x,y,z)$ s.t. $8x+4y-6z=0$. Take $(1,-2,0)$ for example, and then divide it by its norm to make it unit. Another method is that from any non-colinear vector to the first, you can apply Gramm-Schmidt process to get an orthogonal vector from the second.

THEORY:- Suppose 2 vectors A(given) and B,we need to find vector B such that it is Perpendicular to vector A. We also know that A.B=0 (since angle b/w them is 90° and cos(90°)=0. The below described algorithm can be applied for 2D as well as 3D vectors.

Proof:- Given A (8i+4j-6k) Total 3 steps.

Step 1:- Suppose a vector B (i+j+k).

Step 2:- Now firstly compare and divide the coefficient of each unit vector in B with that of A. As in this case, => B=(1/8)i+(1/4)j+(1/-6)k.

Step 3:- Now multiply any one of the three coefficient of unit vector in B with (-2). As in this case i have multiplied (-2) with the coefficient of j.It can be done with i or k also. ** => B=(1/8)i+(1/4)j+(1/3)k. Now for the Unit Vector we can divide vector B with its magnitude, which would be in this case, => |B|= √(1/8)² +(1/4)² +(1/3)²

**=> Unit (B)=B/|B|

** (B) IS THE VECTOR PERPENDICULAR TO A. ** Unit(B) IS THE REQUIRED UNIT VECTOR. Verification:-This can be verified as A.B=0

Proved. :)

  • Please use MathJax. – Silvia Ghinassi Dec 25 '15 at 19:36
  • @Silvia Ghinassi: i actually am not aware about it,what is it? – Krishna Maheshwari Dec 26 '15 at 7:21
  • @KrishnaMaheshwari can you see well behaved math symbols making post pleasant to read, that is MathJax. Please read more about – jlandercy Oct 8 '17 at 23:14

You need to find a*i + b*j + c* k so that the dot product of it with 8i +4j -6k is 0.

It means 8a + 4b - 6 c = 0.

You need to choose a,b,c satisfy above. For example, you can choose a = 1, b = 1, c = 2.

  • 2
    That does not give a unit vector. – Zev Chonoles Apr 17 '12 at 22:34
  • Does not give a unit vector and is a repetition of several previous responses. – richard1941 May 23 at 3:52

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