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Q & A: Which way is North?

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Most recent answer: 02/01/2015
I recently made compasses with a group on young students using a magnet and a pin. It seems like I have more questions than the children. My question is how do you know which side of the pin is north and which side is south if you use a magnet that is not marked and you have no real compass to compare it to
- Ashleen (age 23)
Pretoria, South Africa

Hello Ashleen,

What you want to do is to suspend the pin on a length of thread so that the pin can swing and rotate freely.  Eventually it should settle down.  The part of the pin that is toward the North is, indeed, the north pole of the magnet.   The earth's magnetic field can be crudely approximated by a huge bar magnet centered in the earth. The south pole of this fictitious magnet is close to the North geographic pole of the earth.   So the north pole of your pin magnet will seek the south pole of the earth's magnetic pole which is at the geographic North pole.

Got that?  Confusing, eh?   Try looking at for more info.



(published on 02/01/2015)

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