How to Determine the Direction of a Magnetic Field

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Magnetic fields surround you all the time. The Earth is one giant magnet, creating a huge magnetic field that protects everyone on the planet from the radiation and solar storms from the sun. Magnetism flows from the south end of the magnetic pole to the north. In the Earth the north polarity of Earth's natural magnet is in the south pole, while the southern polarity is in the north. The right hand rule is the simplest way of identifying the direction of a magnetic field.

Things You'll Need

  • Magnet
  • Labeled magnet

Determine the north and south sides of the magnet. Use a second magnet that is labeled to help you identify north from south. Like sides will repel while opposite sides attract.

Place your right hand so that your thumb is perpendicular to the northern direction of the magnet.

Close your fingers loosely into your palm. Leave your thumb sticking out like you are hitch-hiking.

Notice the direction your fingers move away from your hand but then curl back into your palm. This is the same direction the magnetic field will travel around the magnet. The direction your thumb is facing is the force through the magnet, south pole to north pole.

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