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We are given the Sylvester equation $AX+XB=C$ with complex matrices. I am trying to understand the proof that if $A$ and $-B$ share no eigenvalues, then there is a unique solution $X$ for any $C$. The proof is on Wikipedia and reads like this:

Suppose that $A$ and $-B$ have no common eigenvalues. Then their characteristic polynomials $f(z)$ and $g(z)$ have highest common factor $1$. Hence there exist complex polynomials $p(z)$ and $q(z)$ such that $p(z)f(z)+q(z)g(z)=1$. By the Cayley–Hamilton theorem, $f(A)=0=g(-B)$; hence $g(A)q(A)=I$. Let $X$ be any solution of $S(X)=0$; so $AX=-XB$ and repeating this one sees that $X=q(A)g(A)X=q(A)Xg(-B)=0$. Hence by the rank plus nullity theorem $S$ is invertible, so for all $C$ there exists a unique solution $X$.

Firstly, I don't understand how it concludes that there exist $p(z)$ and $q(z)$ such that $p(z)f(z) + q(z)g(z)=1$. If this follows from the previous statement, I don't see how.

Secondly, I don't understand how it concludes that $q(A)g(A)X=q(A)Xg(-B)$. Again, if it follows from a previous statement, it is not clear how.

If anyone can explain these steps, or provide a different proof, it would be greatly appreciated.

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3 Answers 3

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The first implication is Bézout's identity for polynomials. It's an equivalent for the Euclidean domain of polynomials of the ordinary one about coprime integers $x$ and $y$ having integers $a$ and $b$ so that $ax+by=1$.


The second one can be seen inductively. $g(A)$ is a sum of monomials $A^k$, so by linearity it suffices to prove that $A^kX=X(-B)^k$ for integer $k$ at least $1$ (the constant term is obvious, since $I$ commutes with $X$). This follows by induction:

  • The basis case is $AX=-XB$, which we already have.
  • If it is true for $k$ (viz. $A^kX=X(-B)^k$), then $$A^{k+1}X = A(A^kX)=A(X(-B)^k) = (AX)(-B)^k = (-XB)(-B)^k = X(-B)^{k+1},$$ where the second equality uses the induction hypothesis and the third uses the basis case.

Hence it is true for all integer $k\geq 1$, and the implication follows.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you so much! I feel someone needs to edit the Wikipedia page if it just leaves out the explanation for a step that requires an entire proof by induction. $\endgroup$
    – Riley
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 22:44
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This does not exactly answer the original question but provides an alternative proof that seems simpler than the one on Wikipedia as of October 2, 2020.

Theorem. Given matrices $A\in \mathbb{C}^{m\times m}$ and $B\in \mathbb{C}^{n\times n}$, the Sylvester equation $AX-XB=C$ has a unique solution $X\in \mathbb{C}^{m\times n}$ for any $C\in\mathbb{C}^{m\times n}$ if and only if $A$ and $B$ do not share any eigenvalue.

Proof. The equation $AX-XB=C$ is a linear system with $mn$ unknowns and the same amount of equations. Hence it is uniquely solvable for any given $C$ if and only if the homogeneous equation $$ AX-XB=0 $$ admits only the trivial solution $0$.

Assume that $A$ and $B$ do not share any eigenvalue. Let $X$ be a solution to the abovementioned homogeneuous equation. Then $AX=XB$, which can be lifted to $A^kX = XB^k$ for each $k \ge 0$ by mathematical induction. Consequently, $$ p(A) X = X p(B) $$ for any polynomial $p$. In particular, let $p$ be the characteristic polynomial of $A$. Then $$p(A)=0$$ due to the Cayley-Hamilton theorem; meanwhile, the spectral mapping theorem tells us $$ \sigma(p(B)) = p(\sigma(B)), $$ where $\sigma(\cdot)$ denotes the spectrum of a matrix. Since $A$ and $B$ do not share any eigenvalue, $p(\sigma(B))$ does not contain $0$, and hence $p(B)$ is nonsingular. Thus $X= 0$ as desired. This proves the "if" part of the theorem.

Now assume that $A$ and $B$ share an eigenvalue $\lambda$. Let $u$ be a corresponding right eigenvector for $A$, $v$ be a corresponding left eigenvector for $B$, and $X=u{v}^*$. Then $X\neq 0$, and $$ AX-XB = A(uv^*)-(uv^*)B = \lambda uv^*-\lambda uv^* = 0. $$ Hence $X$ is a nontrivial solution to the aforesaid homogeneous equation, justifying the "only if" part of the theorem. Q.E.D.

Remark. The theorem remains true if $\mathbb{C}$ is replaced by $\mathbb{R}$ everywhere. The proof for the "if" part is still applicable; for the "only if" part, note that both $\mathrm{Re}(uv^*)$ and $\mathrm{Im}(uv^*)$ satisfy the homogenous equation $AX-XB=0$, and they cannot be zero simultaneously.

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    $\begingroup$ I have edited the Wikipedia page to improve the proofs. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$
    – Nuno
    Commented Oct 3, 2020 at 7:09
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In case you don't already know how this works, I think it's very useful to see how eigenvectors/eigenvalues of $A$ and $B$ directly give you eigenvalues of the "Sylvester operator" $X \mapsto AX+XB$. Actually, it is conceptually clearer to work with with the transpose $C=B^t$ instead of $B$, which makes no difference because $B$ and $C$ have the same spectral theory. So the operator is $$X \mapsto AX+XC^t : M_n(\mathbb{C}) \to M_n(\mathbb{C})$$ The basic idea is revealed in the case where $A$ and $C$ are diagonalizeable. Let $u_1,\ldots, u_n$ be a basis of eigenvectors for $A$ with accompanying eigenvalues $\lambda_1,\ldots,\lambda_n$. Let $w_1,\ldots,w_n$ be a basis of eigenvectors for $C$ with eigenvalues $\mu_1,\ldots,\mu_n$. One can check that the outer products \begin{align*} E_{ij} := u_i w_j^t && i,j = 1,\ldots,n \end{align*} are linearly independent in $M_n(\mathbb{C})$ and satisfy $$ AE_{ij} + E_{ij} C^t = (\lambda_i + \lambda_j)E_{ij}.$$

The linear independence of the $E_{ij}$ is basically an manifestation the tensor product isomorphism $(\bigotimes_i U_i) \oplus (\bigotimes_j W_j) \cong \bigoplus_{i,j} (U_i \otimes V_i)$ for vector spaces.

Conclusion: If $A$ and $C$ are diagonalizable, then so is $X \mapsto AX+XC^t$. Moreover, the eigenvalues of $X \mapsto AX+XC^t$ are precisely $\lambda_i + \mu_j$, where $\lambda_i$ is an eigenvalue of $A$ and $\mu_j$ is an eigenvalue of $C$. In particular, as long as no eigenvalue of $A$ is the negative of an eigenvalue of $C$, the operator $X \mapsto AX+XC$ is invertible.

By working a bit harder, I guess you should be able to show analogous things about the generalized eigenspaces, leading to the result you're after. I just wanted to make sure this direct connection between the eigenvalues of $A$, $C$ and the operator $X \mapsto AX+XC^t$ was available to you.

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