22-4. Magnetic Fields and Magnetic Field Lines
Einstein is said to have been fascinated by a compass as a child, perhaps musing on how the needle felt a force without direct physical contact. His ability to think deeply and clearly about action at a distance, particularly for gravitational, electric, and magnetic forces, later enabled him to create his revolutionary theory of relativity. Since magnetic forces act at a distance, we define a
Small compasses used to test a magnetic field will not disturb it. (This is analogous to the way we tested electric fields with a small test charge. In both cases, the fields represent only the object creating them and not the probe testing them.) Figure 2 shows how the magnetic field appears for a current loop and a long straight wire, as could be explored with small compasses. A small compass placed in these fields will align itself parallel to the field line at its location, with its north pole pointing in the direction of B. Note the symbols used for field into and out of the paper.
Making Connections: Concept of a Field
A field is a way of mapping forces surrounding any object that can act on another object at a distance without apparent physical connection. The field represents the object generating it. Gravitational fields map gravitational forces, electric fields map electrical forces, and magnetic fields map magnetic forces.
Extensive exploration of magnetic fields has revealed a number of hard-and-fast rules. We use magnetic field lines to represent the field (the lines are a pictorial tool, not a physical entity in and of themselves). The properties of magnetic field lines can be summarized by these rules:
The last property is related to the fact that the north and south poles cannot be separated. It is a distinct difference from electric field lines, which begin and end on the positive and negative charges. If magnetic monopoles existed, then magnetic field lines would begin and end on them.
Explain why the magnetic field would not be unique (that is, not have a single value) at a point in space where magnetic field lines might cross. (Consider the direction of the field at such a point.)
List the ways in which magnetic field lines and electric field lines are similar. For example, the field direction is tangent to the line at any point in space. Also list the ways in which they differ. For example, electric force is parallel to electric field lines, whereas magnetic force on moving charges is perpendicular to magnetic field lines.
Noting that the magnetic field lines of a bar magnet resemble the electric field lines of a pair of equal and opposite charges, do you expect the magnetic field to rapidly decrease in strength with distance from the magnet? Is this consistent with your experience with magnets?
Is the Earth’s magnetic field parallel to the ground at all locations? If not, where is it parallel to the surface? Is its strength the same at all locations? If not, where is it greatest?