How a Compass Works

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Explaining to scouts How a Compass Works


Compass one between two


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No matter where you stand on Earth, you can hold a compass in your hand and it will point toward the North Pole. What an unbelievably neat and amazing thing! Imagine that you are in the middle of the ocean, and you are looking all around you in every direction and all you can see is water, and it is overcast so you cannot see the sun... How in the world would you know which way to go unless you had a compass to tell you which way is "up"? Long before GPS satellites and other high-tech navigational aids, the compass gave humans an easy and inexpensive way to orient themselves.

But what makes a compass work the way it does? In this article, we will answer all of these questions, A compass is an extremely simple device. A magnetic compass (as opposed to a gyroscopic compass) consists of a small, lightweight magnet balanced on a nearly frictionless pivot point. The magnet is generally called a needle. One end of the needle is often marked "N," for north, or colored in some way to indicate that it points toward north. On the surface, that's all there is to a compass.


The magnet used in a magnetic compass is usually called:

the needle
the pointer
the bar


How do you know when the needle is pointing north?

The compass heats up.
The needle starts vibrating.
One end of the needle is colored to indicate it's pointing north.


Why does a compass have a lightweight magnet and a frictionless bearing?

to make it easier to carry
to make the compass more affordable
to allow the needle to turn easier


According to a theory, what causes the Earth's magnetic forces?

the interaction of gravity with the sun and the moon
the rotational forces within the Earth's liquid iron layer
the interaction of complicated wind patterns and ocean currents


What's one way to change a needle (or other wirelike piece of steel) into a magnet?

rub it against another needle
stroke it with a magnet
heat it and then quickly freeze it


Ships and airplanes use what type of compass?

magnetic compass
gyroscopic compass
pressurized compass


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  • Navigator - No compass
  • Orienteer - Set map