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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 (about 40 meters per day)! 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 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.


Get the plug-ins: Get Adobe Acrobat Reader , and Get Quicktime Player. (The QuickTime plug-in is needed to play sounds and movies correctly.)

Want to share photos of you or your friends doing this activity? Send it in an e-mail with the following information:

  1. The title of the activity
  2. The URL (Internet address)
  3. Your name.
Remember that no pictures can be used that show student faces or student names on it. 

Teachers should view the Teacher Site Map to relate Sci-ber text and the USOE 5th grade science core.

Updated October 24, 2008 by: Glen Westbroek

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