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Generating Magnetism - Windows to the Universe

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The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.
This figure shows a model of the Earth's magnetic field being generated within the Earth.
Click on image for full size
Gary A Glatzmaier (Los Alamos National Laboratory) and Paul H Roberts (University of California, Los Angeles).

Generating a Magnetic Field

Scientists think, although not certain, there are two essential ingredients for generating a magnetic field. Those two ingredients are

A bar of iron can be made into a magnet by wrapping it with wires and running a current through the wires.

It is believed a planet, or a star, can generate a magnetic field if it has both of the two ingredients above. It must have enough magnetic material, and it must have currents moving inside the magnetic material. If a planet does not have enough of either of these two ingredients, it will not have a magnetic field. Planets which do not have magnetic fields include Venus (moves very slowly), and Mars (most the iron is on the surface, and not molten).


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF