Forces and Motion | Electricity and Magnetism

Differentiating between gravity and magnetism

Teaching Guidance for 5-11 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

Gravity and magnetism

Wrong Track: Gravity is a magnetic force that attracts things to the Earth.

Right Lines: The Earth's gravity and the Earth's magnetic field are independent of each other.

Distinguishing between the two forces

Thinking about the learning

Mixing up gravity and magnetism is a common confusion. Both magnetic and gravitational forces act at a distance and both are in evidence at the Earth's surface.

Thinking about the teaching

One simple distinction to make between gravity and magnetism is that gravitational forces always attract and never repel. The force due to gravity follows from the interaction between the Earth's mass and any other body that happens to be nearby (the effect extends far beyond the Earth to the Moon and beyond).

Unlike gravity, magnetism doesn't work for anthign with mass. Magnetic forces only occur between specific materials (mainly iron and certain iron alloys). This alone is a strong argument that magnetism is not responsible for gravitational forces.

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