This explanation on magnets and magnetism is intended for our readers of elementary and middle school. If you feel magnetically drawn to learn more about this topic, check out our in-depth article. How magnets work.
Magnets are fun to play. We feel like we have a magic wand! Magnets are pieces of metal or rock with an invisible power to attract special types of metal. This power is called a force. In nature, a force is something that causes pushing or pulling. Gravity is the force that keeps you from floating off the ground. Magnetism is the force that makes a magnet stick to your refrigerator.
Earth is a magnet
Magnetism is at work all around you. Almost anything that uses electricity or works with a motor contains magnets. Magnetic force helps your car run, your microwave cook, and your computer run. Even the Earth we live on is a giant magnet!
The middle of our planet is made up of two metals called iron and nickel. Both metals are attracted to magnets. These special metals can also become magnets. Our planet is still spinning in space, and the Earth’s metal core is spinning too. These movements create a magnetic force that surrounds the Earth called the magnetic field.
A magnetic field is the area around a magnet that has magnetic force. All magnets have a magnetic field, regardless of their size. Objects attracted by magnets are called magnetic objects. All magnetic objects are metal, but not all metals are magnetic. The main metals attracted to magnets are iron, cobalt and nickel. You can turn any of these metals into a magnet by rubbing it with a magnet!
If a magnetic object like a paperclip enters a magnetic field, it is attracted to the magnet. Magnetic fields work even underwater. A strong magnet can even attract a magnetic object across a table.
Magnets have two poles: north and south
A magnet has two ends, called poles. One end is the North Pole, and the other is the South Pole. Can you think of anything else that has a north pole and a south pole? That’s right, the Earth looks a lot like a magnet! Compasses work by magnetizing the rotating needle to align with the magnetic poles of the planet.
If you are holding two magnets in your hands, the north pole of one magnet will always attract the south pole of another. The opposite poles repel each other.
Because our planet is like a big magnet, it also has a magnetic field. The Earth’s magnetic field protects us from solar radiation. The North and South Poles have natural colored light shows called the Northern Lights and Southern Lights. These lights are caused by showers of energy from the sun hitting the Earth’s magnetic field.