Euclidean space is the fundamental space of geometry, intended to represent physical space. Originally, that is, in Euclid's Elements, it was the three-dimensional space of Euclidean geometry, but in modern mathematics there are Euclidean spaces of any positive integer dimension, including the three-dimensional space and the Euclidean plane (dimension two). The qualifier "Euclidean" is used to distinguish Euclidean spaces from other spaces that were later considered in physics and modern mathematics.
Ancient Greek geometers introduced Euclidean space for modeling the physical space. Their work were collected by the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid in its Elements, with the great innovation of proving all properties of the space as theorems, by starting from a few fundamental properties, called postulates, which either were considered as evident (for example, there is exactly one straight line passing through two points), or seemed impossible to prove (parallel postulate).
After the introduction at the end of 19th century of non-Euclidean geometries, the old postulates were re-formalized to define Euclidean spaces through axiomatic theory. Another definition of Euclidean spaces by means of vector spaces and linear algebra has been shown to be equivalent to the axiomatic definition. It is this definition that is more commonly used in modern mathematics, and detailed in this article. In all definitions, Euclidean spaces consist of points, which are defined only by the properties that they must have for forming a Euclidean space.
Euclidean space was introduced by ancient Greeks as an abstraction of our physical space. Their great innovation, appearing in Euclid's Elements was to build and prove all geometry by starting from a few very basic properties, which are abstracted from the physical world, and cannot be mathematically proved because of the lack of more basic tools. These properties are called postulates, or axioms in modern language. This way of defining Euclidean space is still in use under the name of synthetic geometry.
In 1637, René Descartes introduced Cartesian coordinates and showed that this allows reducing geometric problems to algebraic computations with numbers. This reduction of geometry to algebra was a major change of point of view, as, until then, the real numbers were defined in terms of lengths and distances.
Euclidean geometry was not applied in spaces of dimension more than three until the 19th century. Ludwig Schläfli generalized Euclidean geometry to spaces of dimension n, using both synthetic and algebraic methods, and discovered all of the regular polytopes (higher-dimensional analogues of the Platonic solids) that exist in Euclidean spaces of any dimension.
Despite the wide use of Descartes' approach, which was called analytic geometry, the definition of Euclidean space remained unchanged until the end of 19th century. The introduction of abstract vector spaces allowed their use in defining Euclidean spaces with a purely algebraic definition. This new definition has been shown to be equivalent to the classical definition in terms of geometric axioms. It is this algebraic definition that is now most often used for introducing Euclidean spaces.
One way to think of the Euclidean plane is as a set of points satisfying certain relationships, expressible in terms of distance and angles. For example, there are two fundamental operations (referred to as motions) on the plane. One is translation, which means a shifting of the plane so that every point is shifted in the same direction and by the same distance. The other is rotation around a fixed point in the plane, in which all points in the plane turn around that fixed point through the same angle. One of the basic tenets of Euclidean geometry is that two figures (usually considered as subsets) of the plane should be considered equivalent (congruent) if one can be transformed into the other by some sequence of translations, rotations and reflections (see below).
In order to make all of this mathematically precise, the theory must clearly define what is a Euclidean space, and the related notions of distance, angle, translation, and rotation. Even when used in physical theories, Euclidean space is an abstraction detached from actual physical locations, specific reference frames, measurement instruments, and so on. A purely mathematical definition of Euclidean space also ignores questions of units of length and other physical dimensions: the distance in a "mathematical" space is a number, not something expressed in inches or metres.
The standard way to mathematically define a Euclidean space, as carried out in the remainder of this article, is to define a Euclidean space as a set of points on which acts a real vector space, the space of translations which is equipped with an inner product. The action of translations makes the space an affine space, and this allows defining lines, planes, subspaces, dimension, and parallelism. The inner product allows defining distance and angles.
A Euclidean space is an affine space over the reals such that the associated vector space is a Euclidean vector space. Euclidean spaces are sometimes called Euclidean affine spaces for distinguishing them from Euclidean vector spaces.
The action of a translation v on a point P provides a point that is denoted P + v. This action satisfies
As previously explained, some of the basic properties of Euclidean spaces result of the structure of affine space. They are described in § Affine structure and its subsections. The properties resulting from the inner product are explained in § Metric structure and its subsections.
For any vector space, the addition acts freely and transitively on the vector space itself. Thus a Euclidean vector space can be viewed as a Euclidean space that has itself as associated vector space.
Some basic properties of Euclidean spaces depend only of the fact that a Euclidean space is an affine space. They are called affine properties and include the concepts of lines, subspaces, and parallelism, which are detailed in next subsections.
A flat, Euclidean subspace or affine subspace of E is a subset F of E such that
In a Euclidean space, a line is a Euclidean subspace of dimension one. Since a vector space of dimension one is spanned by any nonzero vector a line is a set of the form
It follows that This implies that two distinct lines intersect in at most one point.there is exactly one line that passes through (contains) two distinct points.
A more symmetric representation of the line passing through P and Q is
In a Euclidean vector space, the zero vector is usually chosen for O; this allows simplifying the preceding formula into
The line segment, or simply segment, joining the points P and Q is the subset of the points such that 0 ≤ 𝜆 ≤ 1 in the preceding formulas. It is denoted PQ or QP; that is
Two subspaces S and T of the same dimension in a Euclidean space are parallel if they have the same direction.[a] Equivalently, they are parallel, if there is a translation v vector that maps one to the other:
It follows that in a Euclidean plane, two lines either meet in one point or are parallel.
The concept of parallel subspaces has been extended to subspaces of different dimensions: two subspaces are parallel if the direction of one of them is contained in the direction to the other.
The distance (more precisely the Euclidean distance) between two points of a Euclidean space is the norm of the translation vector that maps one point to the other; that is
With the Euclidean distance, every Euclidean space is a complete metric space.
Two lines, and more generally two Euclidean subspaces are orthogonal if their direction are orthogonal. Two orthogonal lines that intersect are said perpendicular.
Angles are not useful in a Euclidean line, as they can be only 0 or π.
In an oriented Euclidean plane, one can define the oriented angle of two vectors. The oriented angle of two vectors x and y is then the opposite of the oriented angle of y and x. In this case, the angle of two vectors can have any value modulo an integer multiple of 2π. In particular, a reflex angle π < θ < 2π equals the negative angle −π < θ − 2π < 0.
The angle of two vectors does not change if they are multiplied by positive numbers. More precisely, if x and y are two vectors, and λ and μ are real numbers, then
The angle of two lines is defined as follows. If θ is the angle of two segments, one on each line, the angle of any two other segments, one on each line, is either θ or π − θ. One of these angles is in the interval [0, π/2], and the other being in [π/2, π]. The non-oriented angle of the two lines is the one in the interval [0, π/2]. In an oriented Euclidean plane, the oriented angle of two lines belongs to the interval [−π/2, π/2].
As a Euclidean space is an affine space, one can consider an affine frame on it, which is the same as a Euclidean frame, except that the basis is not required to be orthonormal. This define affine coordinates, sometimes called skew coordinates for emphasizing that the basis vectors are not pairwise orthogonal.
For points that are outside the domain of f, coordinates may sometimes be defined as the limit of coordinates of neighbour points, but these coordinates may be not uniquely defined, and may be not continuous in the neighborhood of the point. For example, for the spherical coordinate system, the longitude is not defined at the pole, and on the antimeridian, the longitude passes discontinuously from –180° to +180°.
This way of defining coordinates extends easily to other mathematical structures, and in particular to manifolds.
In the case of a Euclidean vector space, an isometry that maps the origin to the origin preserves the norm
It follows from the preceding results that an isometry of Euclidean spaces maps lines to lines, and, more generally Euclidean subspaces to Euclidean subspaces of the same dimension, and that the restriction of the isometry on these subspaces are isometries of these subspaces.
This means that, up to an isomorphism, there is exactly one Euclidean space of a given dimension.
An isometry from a Euclidean space onto itself is called Euclidean isometry, Euclidean transformation or rigid transformation. The rigid transformations of a Euclidean space form a group (under composition), called the Euclidean group and often denoted E(n) of ISO(n).
The isometries that fix a given point P form the stabilizer subgroup of the Euclidean group with respect to P. The restriction to this stabilizer of above group homomorphism is an isomorphism. So the isometries that fix a given point form a group isomorphic to the orthogonal group.the Euclidean group is the semidirect product of the translation group and the orthogonal group.
Typical examples of rigid transformations that are not rigid motions are reflections, which are rigid transformations that fix a hyperplane and are not the identity. They are also the transformations consisting in changing the sign of one coordinate over some Euclidean frame.
As the special Euclidean group is a subgroup of index two of the Euclidean group, given a reflection r, every rigid transformation that is not a rigid motion is the product of r and a rigid motion. A glide reflection is an example of a rigid transformation that is not a rigid motion or a reflection.
The topological dimension of a Euclidean space equals its dimension. This implies that Euclidean spaces of different dimensions are not homeomorphic. Moreover, the theorem of invariance of domain asserts that a subset of a Euclidean space is open (for the subspace topology) if and only if it is homeomorphic to an open subset of a Euclidean space of the same dimension.
The definition of Euclidean spaces that has been described in this article differs fundamentally of Euclid's one. In reality, Euclid did not define formally the space, because it was thought as a description of the physical world that exists independently of human mind. The need of a formal definition appeared only at the end of 19th century, with the introduction of non-Euclidean geometries.
Two different approaches have been used. Felix Klein suggested to define geometries through their symmetries. The presentation of Euclidean spaces given in this article, is essentially issued from his Erlangen program, with the emphasis given on the groups of translations and isometries.
On the other hand, David Hilbert proposed a set of axioms, inspired by Euclid's postulates. They belong to synthetic geometry, as they do not involve any definition of real numbers. Later G. D. Birkhoff and Alfred Tarski proposed simpler sets of axioms, which use real numbers (see Birkhoff's axioms and Tarski's axioms).
In Geometric Algebra, Emil Artin has proved that all these definitions of a Euclidean space are equivalent. It is rather easy to prove that all definitions of Euclidean spaces satisfy Hilbert's axioms, and that those involving real numbers (including the above given definition) are equivalent. The difficult part of Artin's proof is the following. In Hilbert's axioms, congruence is an equivalence relation on segments. One can thus define the length of a segment as its equivalence class. One must thus prove that this length satisfies properties that characterize nonnegative real numbers. Artin proved this with axioms equivalent to those of Hilbert.
Since ancient Greeks, Euclidean space is used for modeling shapes in the physical world. It is thus used in many sciences such as physics, mechanics, and astronomy. It is also widely used in all technical areas that are concerned with shapes, figure, location and position, such as architecture, geodesy, topography, navigation, industrial design, or technical drawing.
Beside Euclidean geometry, Euclidean spaces are also widely used in other areas of mathematics. Tangent spaces of differentiable manifolds are Euclidean vector spaces. More generally, a manifold is a space that is locally approximated by Euclidean spaces. Most non-Euclidean geometries can be modeled by a manifold, and embedded in a Euclidean space of higher dimension. For example, an elliptic space can be modeled by an ellipsoid. It is common to represent in a Euclidean space mathematical objects that are a priori not of a geometrical nature. An example among many is the usual representation of graphs.
Since the introduction, at the end of 19th century, of Non-Euclidean geometries, many sorts of spaces have been considered, about which one can do geometric reasoning in the same way as with Euclidean spaces. In general, they share some properties with Euclidean spaces, but may also have properties that could appear as rather strange. Some of these spaces use Euclidean geometry for their definition, or can be modeled as subspaces of a Euclidean space of higher dimension. When such a space is defined by geometrical axioms, embedding the space in a Euclidean space is a standard way for proving consistency of its definition, or, more precisely for proving that its theory is consistent, if Euclidean geometry is consistent (which cannot be proved).
A Euclidean space is an affine space equipped with a metric. Affine spaces have many other uses in mathematics. In particular, as they are defined over any field, they allow doing geometry in other contexts.
As soon as non-linear questions are considered, it is generally useful to consider affine spaces over the complex numbers as an extension of Euclidean spaces. For example, a circle and a line have always two intersection points (possibly not distinct) in the complex affine space. Therefore, most of algebraic geometry is built in complex affine spaces and affine spaces over algebraically closed fields. The shapes that are studied in algebraic geometry in these affine spaces are therefore called affine algebraic varieties.
Affine spaces over the rational numbers and more generally over algebraic number fields provide a link between (algebraic) geometry and number theory. For example, the Fermat's Last Theorem can be stated "a Fermat curve of degree higher than two has no point in the affine plane over the rationals."
Originally, projective spaces have been introduced by adding "points at infinity" to Euclidean spaces, and, more generally to affine spaces, in order to make true the assertion "two coplanar lines meet in exactly one point". Projective space share with Euclidean and affine spaces the property of being isotropic, that is, there is no property of the space that allows distinguishing between two points or two lines. Therefore, a more isotropic definition is commonly used, which consists as defining a projective space as the set of the vector lines in a vector space of dimension one more.
Non-Euclidean geometry refers usually to geometrical spaces where the parallel postulate is false. They include elliptic geometry, where the sum of the angles of a triangle is more than 180°, and hyperbolic geometry, where this sum is less than 180°. Their introduction in the second half of 19th century, and the proof that their theory is consistent (if Euclidean geometry is not contradictory) is one of the paradoxes that are at the origin of the foundational crisis in mathematics of the beginning of 20th century, and motivated the systematization of axiomatic theories in mathematics.
A manifold is a space that in the neighborhood of each point resembles a Euclidean space. In technical terms, a manifold is a topological space, such that each point has a neighborhood that is homeomorphic to an open subset of a Euclidean space. Manifolds can be classified by increasing degree of this "resemblance" into topological manifolds, differentiable manifolds, smooth manifolds, and analytic manifolds. However, none of these types of "resemblance" respect distances and angles, even approximately.
Distances and angles can be defined on a smooth manifold by providing a smoothly varying Euclidean metric on the tangent spaces at the points of the manifold (these tangent spaces are thus Euclidean vector spaces). This results in a Riemannian manifold. Generally, straight lines do not exist in a Riemannian manifold, but their role is played by geodesics, which are the "shortest paths" between two points. This allows defining distances, which are measured along geodesics, and angles between geodesics, which are the angle of their tangents in the tangent space at their intersection. So, Riemannian manifolds behave locally like a Euclidean space that has been bent.
Euclidean spaces are trivially Riemannian manifolds. An example illustrating this well is the surface of a sphere. In this case, geodesics are arcs of great circle, which are called orthodromes in the context of navigation. More generally, the spaces of non-Euclidean geometries can be realized as Riemannian manifolds.
An inner product of a real vector space is a positive definite bilinear form, and so characterized by a positive definite quadratic form. A pseudo-Euclidean space is an affine space with an associated real vector space equipped with a non-degenerate quadratic form (that may be indefinite).
A fundamental example of such a space is the Minkowski space, which is the space-time of Einstein's special relativity. It is a four-dimensional space, where the metric is defined by the quadratic form
To take gravity into account, general relativity uses a pseudo-Riemannian manifold that has Minkowski spaces as tangent spaces. The curvature of this manifold at a point is a function of the value of the gravitational field at this point.