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Q & A: All compasses point to Canada

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
What is Magnetic North and how does it differ from the North Pole?
- Katie Lee
Highgate Wood School, London
A:
The North Pole is the axis about which the Earth spins. If you look on a globe it is roughly in the middle of the Arctic, and where the longitude lines all intersect.

The North Magnetic Pole is where the magnetic field lines of the Earth all point up. So if there was a giant bar magnet inside of the Earth, one end would be at Magnetic North.

It turns out that these two Poles are not in the same place. While the North Pole is in the Arctic, the North Magnetic Pole is in Canada. According to the Canadian Geological Survey, the North Magnetic Pole is at about 82.3 degrees North Latitude and 113.4 degrees West Longitude right now. But THE NORTH MAGNETIC POLE MOVES!! That's right. It is moving at a rate of about 40 kilometers (or 24 miles) per year.

For more information about the North Magnetic Pole and all itís crazy adventures, see the website for the Canadian Geological Survey (you can also view it en francais):

This is the reason why using a compass when hiking in the woods in northern Canada requires some care. If you are West of the north magnetic pole, your compass needle will point East, not north. In fact, this difference exists everywhere on earth and has to be corrected for using the current locations of the poles (and if youíre really really picky, local magnetic anomalies because the Earthís field is almost, but not quite, a dipole).

math dan (and Tom)

(published on 10/22/2007)

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