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What is Magnetism?

Magnets are objects, which can attract, or pull, on some metals, like iron and steel. If you rub a piece of steel with a strong magnet, the piece of steel will because a magnet too.  It has become magnetized. Other metals, like copper or gold, are not attracted to magnets. Magnets can also attract each other, but only if they face in opposite directions. A magnet has two ends called poles; one end is the north pole and the other is the south pole. A north pole will attract a south pole; the magnets pull on each other. But the two north poles will push each other away. We say the magnets repel each other. Magnets seem to act something like positive and negative electric charges. Electricity and magnetism are very closely related.

If the words north and south remind you of anything, the earth is in fact a giant magnet. A compass is a tiny magnet balanced on a point so it can turn freely. The magnet is attracted by the earth’s magnetic north pole and always points in that direction.

A good way to see how the magnet attracts is to do the following experiment. Take a strong bar magnet and putt a piece of pare over it. Then sprinkle some iron filings on the paper. The iron fillings will make a pattern. This pattern shows the magnetic field. The drawing below shows what the magnetic field looks like for a bar magnet (although the lines don’t really exist). Now try it with two magnets. Point their north poles at each other. The iron filings show how the magnetic field looks when the magnets repel. Now turn one magnet in the other direction to see how the magnets attract.

  Magnetic Field

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This page updated on August 29, 2008