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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.
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Gary A Glatzmaier (Los Alamos National Laboratory) and Paul H Roberts (University of California, Los Angeles).

Generating a Magnetic Field

Scientists believe, although it is 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 that 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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Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

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The Magnetic Field

The force of magnetism causes material to point along the direction the magnetic force points. This property implies that the force of magnetism has a direction. As shown in the diagram to the left, the...more

The Earth's Magnetosphere

The Earth has a magnetic field with north and south poles. The magnetic field of the Earth is enclosed in a region surrounding the Earth called the magnetosphere. As the Earth rotates, its hot core generates...more

The Moon's Magnetosphere

Unlike the Earth, which has a protective shield around it called the magnetosphere, the surface of the moon is not protected from the solar wind. This picture shows the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth,...more

Interior of Ganymede

The diagram to the left shows a cutaway of the possible interior structure of Ganymede, based on recent measurements by the Galileo spacecraft. It shows a small core of metal, overlain with some rocky...more

Magnetosphere of Ganymede

When the Galileo spacecraft flew by Ganymede, to everyone's surprise, it measured a very strong magnetic field for the first time near any moon. To generate a magnetic field, there must be conducting material...more

Mars Global Surveyor Magnetometer findings

An important new result from the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) mission is the definite confirmation of the presence of a magnetosphere around Mars. Previous missions made inconclusive measurements of the...more

Planetary Magnets

The Earth is a good example of a planetary dipole, where the lines of force point in a direction out of the South (magnetic) Pole and into the North (magnetic) Pole. Planets can also show evidence of quadrupoles...more

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