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Q & A: Geographic and Magnetic North Pole

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
We all believe that in magnets, like poles repel and unlike poles attract. Then why does the North pole of a compass always stop so as to point towards the North ’pole’ of the earth? Should it not point towards the south? Or are the poles of the globe not really magnetic?
- Omer Humayun (age 15)
Isb, Pakistan
A:
The geographic north pole of the Earth is at 90 degrees north latitude, near the axis of rotation of the Earth. There is also a magnetic pole in the arctic region created by the Earth, which actually isn't at the axis of rotation, but rather is located off the coast of Greenland at the present time. The north pole of a compass will point toward this magnetic pole near Greenland. Since magnetic opposites attract, this is indeed a magnetic south pole, but since it is located in a northern direction, it is usually (and also misleadingly) called Earth's magnetic north pole. If you buy a bar magnet with properly labeled "N" and "S" ends, the north-seeking end of a compass needle should point at the "S" end of the magnet.

(published on 10/22/2007)

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