Written by: on July 27, 2020 @ 6:00 am

A compass is a navigational device that uses the Earth’s magnetic field to point explorers in the four cardinal directions: north, south, west, and east. Compasses work because our planet is basically one big magnet! When your compass is pointing to “N”, which stands for north, you are facing towards the magnetic north pole! The Earth’s magnetic north pole is about 1,000 miles south of the geographic North pole.

Although modern day navigators usually use high tech GPS or digital mapping systems, the compass remains one of the most revolutionary tools in navigation history. The magnetic compass was invented over 2,000 years ago in Han dynasty China and was first used for maritime navigation in 1117. Early compasses were made by floating a lodestone (a magnetic gemstone) in a bowel of water, which would point towards magnetic north. This device is commonly referred to a the “wet compass”.  In addition to using the compass for navigation, the Chinese used this tool for fortune telling and finding gemstones.

When the compass was first used by explores, it was typically used as a last resort when landmarks and the sun and stars were not visible. As these devices became more popular for maritime navigation, inventors adapted the first dry compass. As ships began to evolve from being wooden to being made of iron and steel, the magnesium of ship could affect the compass readings. To improve the accuracy, people began placing magnetic bars and soft iron balls around the compass.

Whether you’re on a hiking trail or trying to find lost treasure, people still use a compass to navigate.  Bring your own compass along on your next camping trip by building one today! https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/compass.pdf

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