Why Do Compasses Always Point North?
You’re exploring foreign land and lose your way, so what tool do you use to find your way back: a flashlight, a compass, or a pen?
Of course, you’ll choose the compass because compasses always point north.
But why? Why do compasses always point north? Why don’t they point south or west or east?
How Do Magnets Work?
The compass needle is a magnet, so to understand how compasses work, you should remember a few things you learned in school about magnets.
All magnets have two poles: a north pole and a south pole. The north pole of a magnet is attracted to the south pole of another magnet.
The Earth has its own magnetic field, and it interacts with other magnets. So, the compass’ needle interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field to point the magnetic North Pole.
The Earth has a geographic North Pole (true north) and a magnetic North Pole. Compasses don’t point to the geographic North Pole, they point to the magnetic North Pole.
The compass needle’s North pole points toward the magnetic North pole because that’s where the South Pole of the Earth’s magnetic field is. The North Pole of the Earth’s magnetic field is actually in the south.
Remember North and South Poles are attracted to each other.
However, if you’re trying to get to the geographic North Pole, you shouldn’t rely on your compass. True north is about 1,000 miles north of the magnetic North Pole. Over the last century, the magnetic North Pole has shifted over 620 miles towards Siberia, so it isn’t a stationary point.