3 Dimensional Coordinates


To generalize the plane to 3 dimensions, we draw a third axis, called the z-axis at a right angle from the plane so that if you grab on to the z-axis with your right hand your hand will curl from the positive x-axis to the positive y-axis.  To plot a point in the xyz-space We first plot a point in the xy-plane and then draw a segment parallel to the z-axis of length equal to the z coordinate. 


Plot (1,2,3) 

We first draw the x,y, and z-axes.  Then we plot the point (1,2) in the xy-plane.  Finally move up three units and plot the point.


Plot  (2,4,3)

The Distance Formula

The picture below shows how the Pythagorean Theorem relates to distance in three dimensions.  Notice that there are two right triangles.  


In general, distance between two points (x1,y1,z1) and (x2,y2,z2) and is given by the following

     Distance Formula in Three Dimensions


Notice that this is just an extension of the Pythagorean Theorem.



Find the distance between the points

    (2,3,10) and (6,2,2)


We find

        (6 - 2)2 + (3 - 2)2 + (2-10)2  

        =  42 + 12 + (-8)8  =  16 + 1 + 64  =  81

Now take a square root and the distance is 9.


The Midpoint Formula

To find the midpoint of two points (x1,y1,z1) and (x2,y2,z2), we just find the average of each of the coordinates.



You begin your journey along a straight path at the point (2,-3,5).  When you arrive at the point (3,6,2) you are half way to your destination.  What is the location of your destination?



We write

        2 + x                    -3 + y                      5 + z
                     =  3,                      =  6,                         =  2  
           2                           2                             2          


        2 + x  =  6,        -3 + y  =  12,        5 + z  =  4

        x  =  4,        y  =  15,        z  =  -1

Our destination is at (4,15,-1).

The Equation of a Sphere

Just as the equation of a circle follows from the distance formula, so does the equation of a sphere.  Since a sphere is defined by the set of all points a distance from a fixed point (h,k,l), squaring the distance formula gives

        (x - h)2 + (y - k)2 + (z - l)2  =  r2

Here we are using the letter r, for radius, to designate this distance.



The points (5,3,4) and (-1,3,-4) lie on opposite sides of a sphere.  Find the equation of the sphere.



We need to find the coordinates of the center of the sphere and the radius of the sphere.  The center is the midpoint of the two given point.  We write

         5 - 1           3 + 3            4 + (-4)
                   ,                   ,                          
           2                 2                   2          

Hence the center is at the point (2,3,0).

Now, the distance from the center to a point on the circle is the radius of the circle.  We use the distance formula.

        r2  =  (2 - 5)2 + (3 - 3)2 + (0 - 4)2

        =  (-3)2 + 02 + (-4)2  =  9 + 16  =  25.

Putting this all together gives the equation of the circle

        (x - 2)2 + (y - 3)2 + z2  =  r2 

Traces of Surfaces

Sketching a surface is quite a challenge.  One way of visualizing a surface is to look at the intersections of the surface with the xy, xz, and yz planes.  These are called the traces of the surface.


Sketch the traces of the surface



If we let z  =  0, we get

        x2 - y2  =  1

This is a hyperbola as shown below


If we let y  =  0, we get the ellipse



and finally, if we let x  =  0, we get the hyperbola


Since sketching the surface by hand is difficult, we have used a computer to show the three dimensional picture.



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