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8 Things You Didn’t Know About Magnets


Today is National Trivia Day, and you know what that means! Time for us to break out those obscure tidbits of magnet-related information that we’ve got lying around and put your knowledge to the test. So let’s see how many of these “Did You Know?” facts we can stump you with…

  1. The first people to observe and comment on magnetic phenomena were the Chinese. They called them “loving stones” because they “loved” metals. Such objects were carried mostly for fortune-telling and magic tricks. Magnets were also known in India as early as 600 BC, where they were used by a physician named Sushruta for medical purposes.
  2. In the 12th century, magnets were also called “lodestones” which were actually magnetite, a form of iron oxide that forms when volcanic magma is slowly cooled. “Lodestones” were not only able to attract of iron-like metals but could even magnetize ordinary iron. When magnetized and hung from a string or floated on water, these metals aligned with the Earth’s magnetic field and became early compasses, hence the term “lodestone” where “lode” means “the way.”
  3. The study of magnetic fields can be traced to the 12th century French scholar Petrus Peregrinus de Maricourt, who mapped a magnetic field on the surface of a spherical magnet using iron needles. He traced the lines formed by the needles to their points of intersection, and called these points “poles,” making the connection between the two poles of a magnet and the Earth’s poles.
  4. A magnetar is a neutron star with amazingly intense magnetic fields. These fields are so powerful that exposure to them would be fatal for a human from over 600 miles away.
  5. The most magnetic object ever perceived was the magnetar SGR 1806-20, with a magnetic field of over 10^15 gauss in intensity. It was perceived when radiation from an explosion reached the Earth in 2004.
  6. According to a recent study, birds don’t need a compass to know which way is North because they can see the Earth’s magnetic fields: “Scientists already suspected birds’ eyes contain molecules that are thought to sense Earth’s magnetic field. In a new study, German researchers found that these molecules are linked to an area of the brain known to process visual information.”
  7. Magnets don’t have to be made of metal. Most of them are, but they can be made of any material with unpaired electrons. Neodymium, for example, is an alloy, and ferromagnetic materials, such as the spinels used to seal refrigerator doors, are often not metals at all.
  8. The most powerful magnets in the world are housed at two sister laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Florida State University. They have magnets that can reach 100 and 45 tesla, respectively. The Los Alamos laboratory generates fields that last only a few seconds, but FSU’s magnet can maintain its field as long as it has power.

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