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How do you show that two lines do, or do not intersect?

How you should approach a question of this type in an exam

Say you are given two lines Land Lwith equations

 r= (a1,b1,c1) + s(d1,e1,f1) and r= (a2,b2,c2) + t(d2,e2,f2) respectively and you are asked to deduce whether they do or do not intersect.

Then we need to either:

Find values of s and t such that both position vectors rand rare equal and thus giving us a point of intersection.

Or show that such a pair of s and t does not exist.

In both cases we try to find the s and t , we either succeed or we reach a contradiction - which shows that they cannot intersect.

What the best method is for doing this and how to display it to the examiner

For two lines to intersect, each of the three components of the two position vectors at the point of intersection must be equal.

Therefore we can set up 3 simultaneous equations, one for each component.

However we only have 2 unknowns to find (s and t) so we only need two of these equations, so we pick two of them. (Here I pick the first two)

We write:     a+ sd= a+ td2

                      b+ se= b+ te2

and we solve these in the usual way to find our s and t, showing our working.

Then we substitute in our values for s and t into our third equation:

If we have a point of intersection, then we should have one side equal to the other. We then may have to find the point of intersection, we do this by plugging our value of s into the equation of the first line, and t into the equation of the second. This gives us our point of intersection as they should be equal, if not , you have made a mistake in solving the two simultaneous equations. 

If the lines do not intersect, then both sides will not be equal and we will have something like '5=8'. We now write 'This is a contradiction, so the lines do not intersect.'

George R. A Level Further Mathematics  tutor, A Level Maths tutor, A ...

2 years ago

Answered by George, an A Level Maths tutor with MyTutor


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