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What Is Magnetic Polarity?

A horseshoe magnet with north and south poles labeled.
A bar magnet.
Earth's magnetic poles differ from its geographic poles.
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  • Written By: Megan Shoop
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 01 July 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Magnetic polarity describes the magnetic field around almost any magnetic object. Almost every magnet has a north pole and a south pole that are oriented with Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetic field surrounding Earth is one of the largest known to humans. The energy surrounding the planet follows a distinct pathway that creates two large, magnetically-attractive points, which are the North Pole and the South Pole, or the Arctic and the Antarctic. The magnetic polarity of nearly every other magnetic object on Earth is determined by this overarching magnetic field. Without it, there would likely be no magnetic objects on the planet.

When tracing Earth’s magnetic field, it is relatively easy to track magnetic polarity. The source of magnetic energy runs straight through the planet’s axis. As this straight line exits the northern point of the axis, it splits into two lines of energy that bend downward to surround the east and west hemispheres of the earth. These two lines then meet at the southern point of the axis and feed back into Earth’s core. The two points where the magnetic energy exits and enters Earth are the two magnetic poles. This is what creates the magnetic field around the entire planet.

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A microcosm of this magnetic field can be seen with most ordinary magnets. To examine magnetic polarity on a smaller scale, the experimenter generally requires two dipolar bar magnets, which are simply magnets with a north pole and a south pole. Magnets with marked poles generally work best. The experimenter should lay one of the bar magnets vertically on a flat surface with the south pole closest to him or her. He or she should then try to push the two south poles of the magnets together, noting how they repel. This happens because the south poles of the magnets are both pulling in energy and cannot stick together.

The north poles should also push each other away because they’re both pushing energy outward. The magnetic polarity in bar magnets acts this way because they’re oriented with the poles of Earth. It is uncertain why magnetism occurs in some substances and not in others, but when it does occur, the magnets always align themselves with planet’s magnetic field. An example of this can also be seen in compasses because they are designed to align themselves with the North Pole. No matter what direction the holder is facing, the needle on a good, working compass should always point north.

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