Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Magnetic Paradox
Name: Robert
Status: educator
Age: 50s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001

Dear sir: My question is very simple. On a magnetic compass the needle is polarized when it is manufactured and on end points north and the opposite end points south. What is the polarity of the end that points north? On one compass I own this end is painted and has a small letter N printed on the surface. Is this end polarized to point north therefore making it south or is the North Pole of the earth really the south pole? I hope I have been clear enough in discribing my dilemma.

North is south and south is north. The end that is painted north-is really south- otherwise it would repel from the earth's magnetic north pole, which is the south pole.

Dr. Myron

Good question. It's all in the terminology. The end of the needle with the N painted on it should, to avoid confusion, be called the 'North SEEKING Pole'. Note that if the earth is considered to be a magnet, the "North Magnetic Pole" is then a "South Seeking Pole". In short (though in a somewhat confusing terminology), the North pole of a magnet points to the south pole of the earth's magnet, which is near the geographic north pole.

I'm sorry this is so confusing. If you can think of a better way out of this confusion, I would be delighted!


Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory