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Magnetism - Where Am I Really?

The south pole of a magnet is attracted to the Magnetic North Pole of  the Earth. The south pole of a bar magnet is labeled "N." This can be confusing.

A famous aviator nicknamed "Wrong Way Corrigan" flew from New York to Ireland when he was supposed to be going to Kansas. He claimed he followed the wrong end of his compass.

The south pole of your magnet is labeled with an "N" because compasses were in use long before scientists understood how magnets worked. Navigators of long ago labeled it with an "N" because a magnetized needle pointed north when it could turn freely. Today, it is labeled "N" because it is called the "north seeking pole." It is really the SOUTH pole of the magnet.

The North Pole

Another thing that is important to know about compasses is that they do not point to Earth's north pole, but to Earth's North Magnetic Pole. The North Magnetic Pole is several hundred kilometers south of the north pole, and it moves about 15 kilometers every year! You have to know where it is to adjust your compass so you can find where the real north pole is, which is called "true north."


Image courtesy of NOAA.

You're the scientist!
Since setting a compass is such a tricky thing, you do not want anything to mess up how your compass works. You already know something about what sorts of things are attracted to a magnet, and how far a magnetic field goes. What do you think will happen if a magnet or an object made of iron or steel comes near your compass? How close would it have to be?

Write an experiment to test your hypothesis for the above questions. Be sure to include all of the steps you of your experiment. After you have approved your procedure with an adult, obtain the materials you need and perform the experiment. Record your results and share them with your friends or family.

utah state board of education This Sci-ber Text was developed by the Utah State Board of Education and Utah educators.