Sounds like a pretty big word, doesn’t it? But we’re going to tell you some facts about magnetism so it’s easy to understand and you can ace that next test of yours.
So what are magnets? Have you played with magnets before? Well we’re sure you must have, as most of us have at some point. Now what you will know is that all magnets can pull things towards themselves no matter what the shape of the magnet is. That is what magnetism is.
They can’t pull things like paper, glass or cloth, only things that are made of iron or that contain iron, so if you try and attach a magnet to something plastic, it’s just not going to work. Magnets are usually made of metal iron or another material with lots of iron in it, like steel.
There are different types of magnets and some have super fancy names like Air-core magnets, Electromagnets and the Permanent magnets. The ones we usually see are mostly man-made by using electricity.
There are also naturally magnetic rocks called lodestone found on the Earth’s surface and in the past people made them magnetic by rubbing iron on the rock surface. This made the electrons inside them pull in the same direction. Wow, that’s pretty cool. Iron is made up of tiny particles called atoms and each iron atom is made up of 26 electrons.
Magnets are like a big invisible force that we can’t see, just like the wind. But even though we can’t actually see the force, we can see what the force does to things around it. In the olden days people thought magnets were magic because as they would see things move without being touched!
Below is a picture of magnetic field lines, which we can’t see with our eyes.
Magnets are great fun to play with but they are also seriously important and they are used in so many ways in our world. They hold notes to the fridge, help close fridge doors; they are used in microwaves, electric fans, earphones, speakers, in medical equipment, electronics and in nearly all electric machines that use motor engines to make them work. Wow, who would have thought that they were used in so many things?
Magnets have two ends to them. These are called poles – a North Pole and a South Pole, just the same as the earth. The two ends of the magnet may look the same but they don’t do the same things. If you get two ‘North Pole’ magnet ends or two ‘South Pole’ magnet ends and try putting them together they will push away from each other but if you take a ‘North Pole’ magnet end and put it near a ‘South Pole’ magnet end they will pull towards each other.
Another interesting thing is if you chop a magnet in half, you get two identical magnets and each has a North and a South Pole, so you will never find a magnet with just a South Pole or just a North Pole.
Our Earth is a like a massive magnet with a liquid metal core deep inside it which spins, creating a magnetic field with a North and South Pole. The field is strongest at the actual poles. The Sun is also very magnetic.
Before GPS satellites were invented, the compass was used to tell us what direction we were facing – this would be rather useful if you were stuck in the middle of the ocean. The magnetic compass was a simple tool with a magnet which balanced, called a needle. The one end was often marked “N,” for north, or colored in some way to show that it pointed north. Because of the earth’s magnetic field the magnetic needle was always drawn to the magnetic North Pole. It doesn’t point exactly north because true north is at the North Pole. The needle points to the magnetic North Pole which is about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of true north.
Electricity and magnetism have a strong connection with each other and scientists call this ‘electromagnetism’. Without it we would have no electricity in our homes or electric motors. The term comes from knowing that a magnet can create an electric current and an electric current produces magnetism.
So, there’s everything you need to know about magnetism. We hope it is nice and clear and that you’ll be a super kid in all things magnetism when you’re asked about it!
Click to take our magnetism quiz – all answers can be found somewhere on this page!