How can I prove that 3 planes are arranged in a triangle-like shape without calculating their intersection lines?

The problem

So recently in school, we should do a task somewhat like this (roughly translated):

Assign a system of linear equations to each drawing

Then, there were some systems of three linear equations (SLEs) where each equation was describing a plane in their coordinate form and some sketches of three planes in some relation (e.g. parallel or intersecting at 90°-angles.

My question

For some reason, I immediately knew that these planes:

enter image description here

belonged to this SLE:

And it turned out to be true. In school, we proved this by determining the planes’ intersecting lines and showing that they are parallel, but not identical.
However, I believe that it must be possible to show the planes are arranged like this without a lot of calculation. Since I immediately saw/”felt” that the planes described in the SLE must be arranged in the way they are in the picture (like a triangle). I could also determine the same “shape” on a similar question, so I do not believe that it was just coincidence.

What needs to be shown?

So we must show that the three planes described by the SLE cut each other in a way that I do not really know how to describe. They do not intersect with each other perpendicular (at least they don’ have to to be arranged in a triangle), but there is no point in which all three planes intersect. If you were to put a line in the center of the triangle, it would be parallel to all planes.

The three planes do not share one intersecting line as it would be in this case:

enter image description here

(which was another drawing from the task, but is not relevant to this question except for that it has to be excluded)

My thoughts

If you were to look at the planes exactly from the direction in which the parallel line from the previous section leads, you would see something like this:

enter image description here

The red arrows represent the normal of each plane (they should be perpendicular). You can see that the normals somehow are part of one (new) plane. This is already given by the manner how the planes intersect with each other (as I described before).
If you now were to align your coordinate system in such a way that the plane in which the normals lie is the x1x2-plane, each normals would have an x3 value of 0. If you were now to further align the coordinate axes so that the x1-axis is identical to one of the normals (let’s just choose the bottom one), the values of the normals would be somehow like this:

n1=(a00) for the bottom normal

n2=(aa0) for the upper right normal

and n3=(aa0) for the upper left normal

Of course, the planes do not have to be arranged in a way that the vectors line up so nicely that they are in one of the planes of our coordinate system.

However, in the SLE, I noticed the following:

-The three normals (we can simpla read the coefficients since the equations are in coordinate form) are n1=(132), n2=(132) and n3=(064).

As we can see, n1 and n2 have the same values for x1 and that x2(n1)=x2(n2); x3(n1)=x3(n2)

Also, n3 is somewhat similar in that its x2 and x3 values are the same as the x2 and x3 values of n1, but multiplied by the factor 2.

I also noticed that n3 has no x1 value (or, more accurately, the value is 0), while for n1 and n2, the value for x1 is identical (n1=1).


I feel like I am very close to a solution, I just don’t know what to do with my thoughts/approaches regarding the normals of the planes.
Any help would be greatly appreciated.

How can I show that the three planes are arranged in this triangular-like shape by using their normals, i.e. without having to calculate the planes’ intersection lines? (Probably we will need more than normals, but I believe that they are the starting point).

Update: I posted a new question that is related to this problem, but is (at least in my opinion) not the same question.


If you write your systems of equations as a matrix as follows:
then here is a (perhaps) quicker way to determine if the picture looks like the triangle. Note: I don’t know how comfortable you are with basic linear algebra concepts, but you only need them to understand the proof of why this is correct. You can apply the method without any understanding of them.

1. If all three normal vectors of the planes are multiples of the same vector, then you can immediately conclude you have three parallel
planes (and not the triangle).

2. If exactly two normal vectors are multiples of the same vector, then you can immediately conclude you don’t have the triangle.
Instead, you have one plane that is cut by two parallel planes.

3. If none of the normal vectors are multiples of each other, then it’s possible you have the triangle. As you noted, the normal vectors
must be in the same plane, i.e. linearly dependent, so it must follow
that det. If this isn’t the case, then you can immediately
conclude that the planes intersect in one point.

4. If there is a solution, then \vec{b} should be a linear combination of two linearly independent columns of A. (This is because A \vec{x} is just a linear combination of A‘s columns. If there is a
solution to A \vec{x} = \vec{b} and A has two linearly independent
columns, then \vec{b} should be able to be written as a linear
combination of just those two columns.) Thus, if we replace a linearly
dependent column (i.e. one that can be expressed as a linear
combination of the others) of A with the vector \vec{b} to create
the matrix A’, for there to be no solution (i.e. the “triangle”
configuration) it must be the case that \det(A’) \neq 0. If
\det(A’) = 0, then you can conclude you have three planes
intersecting in one line (the second picture you’ve posted).

Fortunately, choosing a linearly dependent column is easy. You
just need to make sure to a) replace a zero column with \vec{b} if
A has a zero column or b) if there are two columns that are (nonzero)
multiples of each other, then replace one of them with \vec{b}. And
if none of a) or b) is the case, then you can choose any column.

Example: I’ll work thru the steps above with the example you’ve written.

Steps 1 and 2. I can immediately notice that none of normal vectors of the planes are parallel. So we proceed to step 3.

Step 3. We can calculate
\det(A) = (1)(12 – 12) – (-3)(4 – 0) + 2(-6 – 0) = 0
so we proceed to step 4. Note that if you were able to observe that the third row of A was a linear combination of the first and second row (the third row is simply the first row minus the second row) or that the third column was a multiple of the second column, you could immediately skip to step 4.

Step 4. We can notice that none of the columns are zeroes (case a), but in fact the last two columns are multiples of each other. So case b) applies here, and we have to exchange one of the last two columns with \vec{b} for the process to be correct. Let’s replace the last column of A with \vec{b} to obtain A’:
A’ = \begin{bmatrix} 1 & -3 & -2 \\ 1 & 3 & 5 \\ 0 & -6 & 3 \end{bmatrix}
and we can calculate
\det (A’) = (1)(9 + 30) – (-3)(3 – 0) + (-2)(-6 – 0) = 29 + 9 + 12 = 60 \neq 0
and hence we can conclude we have the “triangle” configuration.

Conclusion: I think this method is somewhat easier than calculating the three intersection lines. It requires you to calculate two determinants of 3 \times 3 matrices instead.

Source : Link , Question Author : Jonas , Answer Author : paulinho

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