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Determination of the Earths Magnetic Field with the use of

Electromagnetism and Vector Analysis

J. Hernandez, A. Orden, M. Perez and J. Trinidad
National Institute of Physics, University of the Philippines Diliman, Diliman, Quezon City

The magnetic field of the earth can be decomposed into its vertical and
horizontal components, where the vertical causes the magnet to dip below the
horizontal surface and the horizontal which is primarily the directional force
of the total magnetic field. The experiment aims to calculate the horizontal
component by inducing a magnetic field in a solenoid and taking the angle of
deflection of a compass in the center of the solenoid, and relate the
trigonometric tangent with the current values. The horizontal component of
the magnetic field was calculated to be 5.09 x 10-5 T, which deviates by about
30% from the theoretical data produced from the National Geophysical Data
Center of America.

1. Introduction

Magnetism is not limited to small-scale objects such as permanent magnets and solenoids. It is also present
on very large scales a concrete example of which is the Earth. The most commonly accepted explanation for
the source of magnetism of the Earth is the circulation of electric current in the molten metals of the outer core.
The properties of the outer core (iron at extremely high temperatures) by itself do not produce a magnetic field.
However, since the Earth rotates around its axis, the molten metals have a circulating electric current which then
correspondingly produce a magnetic field with a magnitude of 0.3 to 0.6 G, depending on the surface of the
Earth where the field was measured [1].
Upon inspection of the magnetic field lines of the Earth, one can see that there are areas wherein the field is
parallel or perpendicular to the Earths surface. Imagine that a freely-suspended bar magnet is suspended on the
surface of the Earth. This bar magnet would tend to adjust such as to align itself parallel to the Earths magnetic
field. Thus, when the field is perpendicular to the surface, the bar magnet would point down. On the other hand,
when the field is parallel to the surface, the bar magnet would not point down.

Figure 1. A graphic representation of the magnetic field lines of the Earth [2]. The
magnetic field lines of the Earth are perpendicular to the North and South poles and
parallel near the equator. The magnetic field of the Earth can essentially be likened to a
bar magnet located inside a sphere [1].

The angle between the axis of a bar magnet and the horizontal surface of the Earth is referred to as the
magnetic dip or magnetic inclination. The magnetic inclination is zero (i.e. field lines are parallel to surface)
near the equator and 90 (i.e. field lines are perpendicular to the surface) on the poles. This then indicates that
the field can be decomposed into two separate components: a vertical component, which causes a magnet to dip
below the horizontal surface, and a horizontal component, which is the primary directional force of the total
magnetic field [3].

Previous experiments in measuring the magnetic field of the Earth used an external magnetic field to detect
the deflection in a compass [4, 5]. The main concepts involved in the experiment are as follows: the magnetic
field of the Earth Be can be related to its horizontal component Bh; the introduction of a perpendicular external
magnetic field Bx to a compass which indicates Bh will cause the compass to deflect at an angle x which can
then be related with Bx to obtain Bh; if Bh and the magnetic inclination i in the vicinity is known, then Bh can be
used to compute for Be. Figures 2 and 3 as well as equations (1), (2), (3) and (4) further illustrate these concepts.

Figure 2. A graphical representation of the relationship between the Earths

magnetic field Be, the horizontal component of the Earths magnetic field Bh
and the magnetic inclination i [4].

Upon inspection, it can then be stated that Be and Bh are related by



where i is the magnetic inclination of Be.

Figure 3. A graphical representation of the relationship between the horizontal

component of the Earths magnetic field Bh, the external magnetic field Bx and
the deflection angle x [4].

Furthermore, should a known external magnetic field Bx act perpendicularly to Bh, a compass needle in the
vicinity of Bx will deflect an angle x away from magnetic south. Upon inspection, it can then be stated that Bh
and Bx are related by


Using a wounded coil of N turns and diameter D as the source of Bx, the magnitude of Bx at the center of the
coil is


where 0 = 4107 (Vs)/(Am) [4].

The experiment done by the researchers consisted of a variation in the method found in the literature; the
researchers approximated equation (1). Due to the unavailability of data for i and the relative proximity of the
Philippines to the equator, equation (1) can be expressed as


since i 0 near the equator. Through solving equation (3) and subsequently substituting equation (3) into
equation (2), the relationship stated in equation (4) would approximately yield Be.

The experiment is mainly limited by: the validity of the results only in the vicinity of the venue of the
experiment (National Institute of Physics, University of the Philippines Diliman, Diliman, Quezon City); and the
exclusion of the magnetic inclination in the computation. The objectives of the experiment are: to apply
concepts from electromagnetism and vector analysis in determining the Earths magnetic field in the vicinity; to
effectively utilize error analysis and data analysis tools in accurately computing the Earths magnetic field; and
to compare the computed magnetic field with the theoretical magnetic field of the Earth.

2. Methodology
A solenoid was made by wounding nine loops of cooper wire with a radius of 9.5 cm. After which, the
south magnetic pole of the earth was identified using a compass. The solenoid was then placed in line with the
north direction the compass points with its surface perpendicular to the surface of the table. The compass was
then placed in the center of the solenoid using a cardboard. The solenoid was then connected to a power supply
to induce magnetic field in the center of the solenoid. A resistor was used to obtain data for small angles, <
30. The data collected is the magnitude of the current along with its corresponding angle deflection of the
compass due to the magnetic field induced in the center of the solenoid. A linear regression was then used to
further describe the outcome and observations.

Figure 4. The diagram on the left (circuit diagram) and on the right (top view of the set-up of the wound
coil and the compass) illustrate the proper set-up for the experiment. At the start of the experiment, the
compass must point to the north and the wound coil must be in line with the compass. By doing this, the
plane of the wound coil is parallel (i.e. Bx is perpendicular to Bh) to the horizontal component of the Earths
magnetic field [5].

3. Results and Discussion

Recalling the magnetic field formula for solenoid, or equation (3),


The direction of deflection of the compass needle is also the direction of the vector sum of magnetic fields
acting on the needle. Assuming that only the Earths and the solenoids magnetic fields are acting on the needle,
we have equation (2) which is
= .
where Bh is the horizontal intensity of Earths magnetic field and x is the angle between the compass needle and
the magnetic north-south line. Substituting equation (3) into equation (2) makes a linear equation:

] .


In equation (5), tan (x) and I are the dependent and independent variables respectively; the remaining factors
are constant variables. The combination of these constants can be written as a single constant , where


can then be substituted into equation (5)

= .


Therefore, we have a more explicit linear equation where is the slope.

Table 1 shows gathered data for values of the angle of deflection as well as their corresponding
trigonometric tangents and current values used.

Table 1. Summary of corresponding values for the experimental data obtained.

Angle of deflection

Trigo. tangents of
angles of deflections



Current vs. trigonometric tangent

Trigonometric tangent


y = 2.3419x + 0.026
R = 0.9983



Current (A)


Figure 5. The graph for the current vs. the trigonometric tangent has an R 2 value of 0.9983.

Using Microsoft Excel, we can plot these data in a current vs. trigonometric tangent coordinate system. Figure 1
shows the graph of these data with a linear trend line, y = mx + b, where y and x correspond to tan (x) and I,
respectively. The linear trend line has a R2 value equal to 0.998. Thus, the angle of inclinations trigonometric
tangent is evidently linearly dependent to the current used. The equation generated by the used linear regression

= 2.341 + 0.026.
Comparing equation (8) to equation (7), the researchers obtained

= 2.341 + 0.026.


From the equation of the linear regression, the slope is equal to 2.341. Note that the generated y-intercept, which
is equal to 0.026, is an experimental error (equation (7) has no y-intercept). Since is the slope of equation (7),
then = 2.341. Using equation (6), one can see that
= 2.341 =


The experiment used N = 9 turns and D = 0.095 m. Isolating unknown variable for Bh, exp, we get

(4 x 107 ) 9
2.341 0.095

= 5.09 105 .


Figure 5 shows the Earths magnetic field at Quezon City (latitude: 14o 39 0 N, longitude: 121o 2 0 E).
Comparing Bh,exp to the literature value for the horizontal intensity of Earths magnetic field, 3.91427 x 10-5 T
[6], the experimental value has a percent error equal to
% =


, |

|3.91427 x 105 T5.09105 |

3.91427 x 105 T

100% = 30.04%.


Such a large error can be attributed to the rapid rate of deflection with respect to current, and the small size of

the compass, leading to imprecise readings. Incidentally, the reason that the measurements vary only from 10 to
80 degrees is a steep rise in the current required to increase the angle of deflection past 80 degrees. Even raising
the angle to 89.9 degrees would require a current increase of over 9000%, due to the nature of vector addition
and the tangent function.

4. Summary, Conclusion and Recommendations

The calculated horizontal component of the magnetic field of the earth is 5.09 x 10-5 which deviates about
30% from the theoretical value of 3.91 x 10-5. This was expected due to relatively small values involved, while
the devices used were not very specific. In order to increase the precision of measurements: increase the number
of trials, decrease the rate of current and induced magnetic field by decreasing the number of loops or increasing
the loop size, decrease the rate of current and voltage by adding resistance to the circuit, or use a larger compass
to make deflection measurements more precise.






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