Earth's Magnetic Field & Compasses

by Ben Brown


Are you somebody who knows how to use a compass? If you answered no, you're not alone. Using a compass is not a widely known skill. However, it is surprisingly easy to learn. This will teach you how to use a compass in both the northern and southern hemispheres, and about the Earth's magnetic field and its effects.


Okay, first of all, I would like to show you what a compass looks like, in case you don't know.
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Now that you know what a compass looks like, I will tell you how to use it. We'll use the compass above as an example. The magnetic needle, which is red, will always point north. If you line yourself up with the needle, so that you are facing the direction the red needle is pointing, you will then be able to find the other directions. If you know which direction your destination is, you should be able to find it.
If you are in the northern hemisphere, you will need a northern hemisphere compass, and vice versa. The reason there are different types is because of the way compasses are constructed. In a northern hemisphere compass, the north end points downward, as the needles align with Earth's magnetic field. The south end is weighted, so that the north end does not drag. If you take a northern hemisphere compass into the southern hemisphere, the south end will drag. This is why there are two different types of compass. If you are in the southern hemisphere, you will, of course, need a southern hemisphere compass.

Earth's Magnetic Field

Earth's magnetic field is what compasses utilize to tell direction. Compasses point towards the north pole. Not the geographical north pole, but the magnetic north pole, which is slightly offset from the other. Compasses align with Earth's magnetic field. Just like a magnet, the magnetic field has polarities. This means that the north needle points north, instead of to whichever pole you're closest to.
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I hope this was helpful and that I explained everything at least decently. Good luck on any travels you may have, and may the compass be with you.