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Homework Help: Earth's magnetic north pole

  1. Jul 7, 2008 #1
    Which compass pole points to Earth's magnetic North pole?
    1.depends where compass is located
    2. compass doesn't actually point at Earth's magnetic north pole
    3. north
    4. south

    I'm stumped by this question. I think either 2 or 3 is the right answer, because they both seem correct to me.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 7, 2008 #2
    I suppose this is all about defining what north and south is. The north of the compass needle should point to the south of the Earth and vice versa, because opposites attract. However, the Earth's north magnetic pole could be possibly located in the south somewhere in Antarctica, I'm not sure where it is now.
  4. Jul 7, 2008 #3


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    My first reaction was to scream, "Of course, the north compass pole points toward the north magnetic pole, you fool, you fool".

    Then I stopped to think. The end of the compass LABLED "north" points toward the earth's north magnetic pole. But, of course, that is the south pole of the compass since magnets always line up with opposite pole next to one another.

    (Unless Doc Al wants to explain what an idiot I am!)
  5. Jul 7, 2008 #4


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    The "north" magnetic pole of Earth is so called only for geographical reasons, that is, it is the pole in the Northern Hemisphere. As a magnetic dipole, it is the pole generally called "south" on an artificial magnet, which is the end where the magnetic field lines are taken to be "going into" the magnet.

    These definitions are all historical and arbitrary, anyway, since we don't really see the field and which way it's "going". All you can really observe is the alignment of smaller magnets with the planet's field. Once you decide what to call "north", the remaining definitions are dictated (a sort of symmetry-breaking of nomenclature...).

    I believe, for the purposes of the question, the answer would be #3.
  6. Jul 7, 2008 #5
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