Sometimes, I love it when I’m really wrong:

My boss and his boss were recently having a science disagreement. My boss’s boss made the bold statement that the magnetic north pole of the earth is actually located at the geographic south pole. Now, everyone knows that magnetic north is near the geography north pole, right? Certainly both my boss and I thought so…

Well, if you do some Google searching you discover that some websites say one thing, some say the opposite, and some avoid the issue altogether.

Rather than be persuaded with websites, I decided we should do an experiment. So, here’s what we did:

We magnetized a small piece of a paper clip, and floated it on (a little scrap of business card folded into an ‘M’ profile in a glass of water. The paper clip aligns itself with the earth’s field – we called the end of the paper clip that pointed towards the geographic north pole end #1 (you could even make a mark on the business card scrap to help keep track of which end is which).

When you run a current through a wire, a magnetic field is created, according to the right-hand rule. If you grab the wire with your thumb pointing in the direction of current (from plus to minus), the magnetic field lines go in the direction of your fingers (field lines go from north to south).

Well, if you hook a wire up to a battery (don’t do it for too long or the battery will overhead) and hold it near the makeshift compass, you discover that end #1 actually points the same way as the field lines go around the wire.

So, if end #1 points along the field lines, and field lines go from north to south, it follows that the magnetic south pole of the earth is really at the geographic north pole!

It’s good to work for a science company that encourages doing this kind of thing during work hours!

posted July 30, 2004 – 8:12 am
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