Pacific Science Center

Bringing science to life.


PacSci-Doku: “Magnetic Wanderer”

By Dennis Schatz – Senior Advisor

Do you Sudoku? It’s one of the hottest number games around! Well, here’s a twist we think you’ll love. We call it PacSci-Doku. Can you guess why? Here’s how it works. Instead of filling in the blanks with numbers, we use letters. Hidden in one of the columns or rows is the answer to a science question. You’ll find information about the answer on the answer tab below.

The question in this edition is:

What’s not where you think it should be?

To find the answer, complete this PacSci-Doku using the following nine letters:

O  o  E  L  N  H  P  R  T

PacSci-Doku: Magnetic Wanderer

Puzzle Difficulty: Medium

The Answer

PacSci-Doku: Magnetic WandererThe question in this edition is:

What’s not where you think it should be?

The answer: North Pole

Most people think the North Pole is a fixed point on the Earth. This is true for the astronomical North Pole, the location that the Earth’s axis of rotation exits the Earth in the Northern Hemisphere. But there is a second North Pole, which is determined by the direction a compass points. This Magnetic North Pole is the result of the movement of liquid iron and nickel in the Earth’s core. This motion produces a magnetic field that a compass measures. It changes direction and strength as the flowing liquid material shifts over the years.

The magnetic North Pole is currently moving a little over 30 miles per year. It crossed the International Date Line in 2017, moving from the Canadian Arctic toward Siberia. It has moved 1,400 miles towards Siberia since first measured in 1831. In Seattle, this currently means that a compass finds magnetic north almost 20 degrees east of astronomical north.

You may think this only matters if you are navigating at sea, but NASA, U.S. Forest Service and Federal Aviation Administration all use the information to make important measurement. Complicating the situation more is that the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening, leading some scientist to wonder if the Earth is going to experience a “flip” of its magnetic field, where the north and south poles change polarity. Read more about the wondering nature of the Earth’s poles.