How you can harness the awesome and terrible forces of the Earth’s core

We learned last post that the Earth’s core is surrounded by molten metal, which exerts a magnetic field around the planet. Some metals can be magnetized. They can be made into a magnet, so they exert a force on other metals without touching them. Iron and steel can be magnetized.

The thing about Earth’s giant magnetic field is that magnetized metals—if they can—try to line up with it. If you were to take a small piece of iron or steel (like a needle) and rub it a few times with a magnet, it will try to align itself with Earth’s North and South. You could make it easier for the needle if you float it on a piece of styrofoam or cork in a bowl of water. After the needle settles down it will point North-South. Congratulations! You built a compass.

Here’s what you’ll need: a bowl, water, a needle, a piece of cork or styrofoam, and a magnet. I got my magnet off of the refrigerator door. If you cut a slice off the cork, get someone to do it with a craft knife. Use a cutting board! Don’t cut it on your mom’s good dining room table. I don’t want angry messages in the comments section.

Rub the needle with the magnet a bunch of times.

Stick the needle halfway through the cork. It may be a good idea to put the butt-end of the needle on a cutting board and press the cork down onto it.

Fill the bowl with water and float the needle and cork in the water. After a little while the needle will point north-south.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

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