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Q & A: Is magnetism stronger than gravity?

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Most recent answer: 01/30/2010
Q:
Iíve always been puzzled by physicís claim that magnetism is stronger than gravity. The most often touted example of that is picking up a paper clip with a tiny magnet. Both gravity and magnetism pull on the paper clip and obviously magnetism wins. Iím not completely satisfied with that argument. In space a black hole is gravity run amuck, nothing escapes it, nothing can resist its pull beyond the event horizon. Is there an equivalent phenomenon in space that demonstrates magnetismís strength?
- James
Austin, Texas
A:
The force of gravity between two objects is F=Gm1*m2/r2.   If we were able to perform the same experiment near the surface of a black hole, the black hole would win hands down since the mass of an ordinary black hole is a more than a million times larger than that of the earth, and the radius is much smaller.  If we were to perform the experiment in the NASA Spacelab, just the slightest bit of magnetic force would work since the effect of the earth's gravity is canceled out by the orbital motion of the Spacelab.

LeeH

ps. Magnetism can be very strong in some places. For example, the surfaces of neutron stars are believed to routinely have 100,000 times higher magnetic fields than a typical strong permanent magnet. In some cases their fields are much bigger than that. Mike W.

(published on 01/30/2010)

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