MadSci Network: Earth Sciences

Re: what side of a magnet sticks to the earth?

Date: Mon Nov 30 22:41:09 1998
Posted By: Tye Morancy, MadSci Admin
Area of science: Earth Sciences
ID: 912233517.Es

    That's a good question Holly,

      I have to say that it all depends on your location.  The earth can be be 
thought of as a huge bar magnet.  As I am sure you're aware, a bar magnet has 
two poles: one is north and one is south.  You are also correct in your 
understanding of how they interact, in that two poles which are the same will 
repel and two different poles such as north and south will attract each other.

      So, now let's apply this to the earth.  The earth is essentially a huge 
bar magnet which also has a north and a south pole, but be careful answering 
which is which.  Have you ever used compasses?  When you pick up the compass, 
the needle always points north right?  That's because the compass needle is 
also a bar magnet.  The north pole of the compass needle is being attracted to 
the south magnetic pole of the earth.  Thus you can now see that the geographic 
north pole is actually the earth's south magnetic pole.  Likewise, the south 
geographic pole is actually the north magnetic pole of the earth.

      So, answering your question, having said all this, we should see that the 
north side of your magnet will stick to the earth if you are at the north 
geographic pole such as somewhere like the Artic Circle.  If you were at the 
South Pole such as Antartica you would see the south pole of your magnet stick 
to the earth.  If however, you were in between them, like the equator, then 
your magnet would want to point towards their respective opposites and wouldn't 
"stick" to the ground.

      Also, keep in mind that the earth's magnetic field is very weak so your 
magnet won't actually stick to the earth or even be pulled noticeably, but when 
you have something small like the bar magnet of a compass needle which can 
move, then you can really see how strong it is there.  

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