How do magnets work? – James May’s Q&A (Ep 37) – Head Squeeze

Magnetism keeps the universe together. James May explains, along with magnetic fields and how they are present in everything in this strangely attractive Hea…
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  1. Ryley Boutilier says:


  2. SuedeStonn says:

    Drat! You beat me too it! ;}

  3. oz searle says:

    On a weaker magnet yes,
    if the magnet is as powerful as he is implying there will be shot of as the attractive force will not have time to finish flipping the magnet in time, so that it might pull it back

  4. Coolguy Tan says:

    Did anyone catch the “Ring Clarkson” note on the fridge? 😛

  5. RFC3514 says:

    Again: “north” and “south” are geographic concepts. The terms are used in compasses because compasses are used to navigate on Earth, and (when aligned to the Earth’s magnetic field), each end points towards a pole.

    And no one “made a mistake when naming the end of a compass”. We put an N on the end that points north because that’s what people using compasses care about.

    When studying magnetism, simply call the ends “negative” and “positive”.

  6. MrGustaphe says:

    the North Magnetic Pole is the magnetic pole at the geographic north, but the Magnetic North Pole is the one at the geographic south. “North” and “South” have special meaning in magnet physics, and you can’t just make exceptions like that. When we need to think of Earth as a magnet, it’s really unhelpful if we can’t call the actual magnetic south pole what it is. They made a mistake when naming the ends of the compass in stead of naming what they pointed at, but we can’t change that now.

  7. MrGustaphe says:

    Yes, but they’d just flip.

  8. Peter Förster says:

    And on Top Gear he even drove to the wrong one…

  9. oz searle says:

    on your final point James if you reverse the polarity of the magnet the fridge magnets will be repeld

  10. Zakarya El-friakh says:

    in the case of electromagnets doesn’t the metal central part become a magnet after a bit of time?

  11. TAPORZZ says:


  12. RFC3514 says:

    “North” and “South” are geographic concepts (that existed long before people knew how to use or make compasses). Magnets’ poles are labelled according to which pole of the Earth they point to. The end with an “N” points to the north pole, the end with an “S” points to the south pole.

    Again: “As of 2012, the pole is projected to have moved beyond the Canadian Arctic territorial claim to 85.9°N 147.0°W. Its southern hemisphere counterpart is the South Magnetic Pole.”

  13. RFC3514 says:

    Yes, and “that definition” is wrong and misleading (as you can see by reading the first three paragraphs of the same page).

    The part of the needle that points to the Earth’s north pole is (the needle’s) “south” pole. Manufacturers put an “N” on it because it points to the Earth’s north (which is what they’re interested in, since people use compasses to navigate on the Earth, and aren’t really interested in navigating inside the compass).

  14. John Smith says:

    put a compas near a bar magnet and it will point to south end of magnet

  15. John Smith says:

    go to page “north magnetic pole” on wiki and read heading “polarity” copy and paste >>
    Because opposite poles attract, this definition implies that the Earth’s North Magnetic Pole is a magnetic south pole and the Earth’s South Magnetic Pole is a magnetic north pole.[5][6]

  16. RFC3514 says:

    You seem to be confusing the names of the poles with the fact that opposites attract (i.e., a compass needle’s negative end aligns towards the positive pole, and vice versa).

    In other words, the compass needle’s “N” end has the opposite polarity of the Earth’s pole it points towards. But that pole is still called “magnetic north pole” (not south).

    Also, compasses aren’t “north seeking” or “south seeking”, they align to the Earth’s magnetic field; they seek an orientation, not a point.

  17. RFC3514 says:

    No, it’s not “counter-intuitive”, it’s wrong. First hit for “magnetic north” on Google:

    “The North Magnetic Pole is the point on the surface of Earth’s Northern Hemisphere at which the planet’s magnetic field points vertically downwards. […] As of 2012, the magnetic north pole is projected to have moved beyond the Canadian Arctic territorial claim to 85.9°N 147.0°W”

    In other words, the Earth’s magnetic north pole is (obviously) near the Earth’s geographic north pole.

  18. John Smith says:

    this may seem counter-intuitive but it is true, a compass is said to be “north seeking”. if you dont beleive me serach it up.

  19. RFC3514 says:

    Why would the magnetic pole closest to the Earth’s north pole be called “magnetic south” (or vice-versa) ?

  20. RFC3514 says:

    It’s one of the four fundamental forces (strong, weak, gravity, electromagnetism). It’s basically the result of an exchange of photons.

  21. FrankenPC says:

    Yeah, but…how does the actual magnetic FORCE attract or repel like gravity? What is the motivational force? Is it a fundamental force like gravity? Or is it some strange particle?

  22. John Smith says:

    i thought magnetic north=south pole and magnetic south=north pole

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