The three Euler rotations are one way to bring a rigid body to any desired orientation by sequentially making rotations about axis' fixed relative to the object. However, this can also be achieved with one single rotation (Euler's rotation theorem). Using the concepts of linear algebra it is shown how this single rotation can be performed.
Let (ê1, ê2, ê3) be a coordinate system fixed in the body that through a change in orientation A is brought to the new directions
rotating with the body is then brought to the new direction
that is to say, this is a linear operator
or equivalently in matrix notation
Rotation around an axis
Let (ê1, ê2, ê3) be an orthogonal positively oriented base vector system in R3. The linear operator "rotation by angle θ around the axis defined by ê3" has the matrix representation
relative to this basevector system. This then means that a vector
is rotated to the vector
by the linear operator. The determinant of this matrix is
and the characteristic polynomial is
The matrix is symmetric if and only if sin θ = 0, that is, for θ = 0 and θ = π. The case θ = 0 is the trivial case of an identity operator. For the case θ = π the characteristic polynomial is
so the rotation operator has the eigenvalues
The eigenspace corresponding to λ = 1 is all vectors on the rotation axis, namely all vectors
The eigenspace corresponding to λ = −1 consists of all vectors orthogonal to the rotation axis, namely all vectors
For all other values of θ the matrix is not symmetric and as sin2 θ > 0 there is only the eigenvalue λ = 1 with the one-dimensional eigenspace of the vectors on the rotation axis:
The rotation matrix by angle θ around a general axis of rotation k is given by Rodrigues' rotation formula.
Note that [k]× satisfies [k]×v = k × v for all vectors v.
The general case
The operator "rotation by angle θ around a specified axis" discussed above is an orthogonal mapping and its matrix relative to any base vector system is therefore an orthogonal matrix. Furthermore its determinant has the value 1. A non-trivial fact is the opposite, that for any orthogonal linear mapping in R3 with determinant 1 there exist base vectors ê1, ê2, ê3 such that the matrix takes the "canonical form"
for some value of θ. In fact, if a linear operator has the orthogonal matrix
relative to some base vector system (f̂1, f̂2, f̂3) and this matrix is symmetric, the "symmetric operator theorem" valid in Rn (any dimension) applies saying that it has n orthogonal eigenvectors. This means for the 3-dimensional case that there exists a coordinate system ê1, ê2, ê3 such that the matrix takes the form
As it is an orthogonal matrix these diagonal elements Bii are either 1 or −1. As the determinant is 1 these elements are either all 1 or one of the elements is 1 and the other two are −1. In the first case it is the trivial identity operator corresponding to θ = 0. In the second case it has the form
if the basevectors are numbered such that the one with eigenvalue 1 has index 3. This matrix is then of the desired form for θ = π.
If the matrix is asymmetric, the vector
is nonzero. This vector is an eigenvector with eigenvalue λ = 1. Setting
and selecting any two orthogonal unit vectors ê1 and ê2 in the plane orthogonal to ê3 such that ê1, ê2, ê3 form a positively oriented triple, the operator takes the desired form with
The expressions above are in fact valid also for the case of a symmetric rotation operator corresponding to a rotation with θ = 0 or θ = π. But the difference is that for θ = π the vector
is zero and of no use for finding the eigenspace of eigenvalue 1, and thence the rotation axis.
Defining E4 as cos θ the matrix for the rotation operator is
that is, except for the cases θ = 0 (the identity operator) and θ = π.
Quaternions are defined similar to E1, E2, E3, E4 with the difference that the half angle θ/ is used instead of the full angle θ. This means that the first 3 components q1, q2, q3 components of a vector defined from
and that the fourth component is the scalar
As the angle θ defined from the canonical form is in the interval
one would normally have that q4 ≥ 0. But a "dual" representation of a rotation with quaternions is used, that is to say (q1, q2, q3, q4)}} and (−q1, −q2, −'q3, −q4) are two alternative representations of one and the same rotation.
The entities Ek are defined from the quaternions by
Using quaternions the matrix of the rotation operator is
Consider the reorientation corresponding to the Euler angles α = 10°, β = 20°, γ = 30° relative to a given base vector system (f̂1, f̂2, f̂3). The corresponding matrix relative to this base vector system is (see Euler angles#Matrix orientation)
and the quaternion is
The canonical form of this operator
with θ = 44.537° is obtained with
The quaternion relative to this new system is then
Instead of making the three Euler rotations 10°, 20°, 30° the same orientation can be reached with one single rotation of size 44.537° around ê3.
- Shilov, Georgi (1961), An Introduction to the Theory of Linear Spaces, Prentice-Hall, Library of Congress 61-13845.