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Planetary Magnetism Science: Modeling Planetary Magnetism
written by Rebecca E. Vieyra and Ramon Lopez
edited by Caroline Hall
This hands-on activity for introductory physics is designed to help students form a deeper understanding of planetary magnetic fields by building physical models and using a smartphone app as a magnetometer to map magnetic field vectors. Students work in groups to model two very different planets: one mimics the strong magnetic field of Earth; the other mimics a Mars-like planet without an active, robust magnetic field. The smartphone magnetometer will be used to visualize a planetary dipole field (representing Earth) and a Planet X with a disordered planetary field comprised of localized remnants of magnetization in the crust (similar to Mars). Students will engage in scientific reasoning to explain why planetary magnetic field vectors vary and how the presence of a magnetic field is essential to life on a planet's surface.
Editor's Note: This cross-disciplinary lab meets NGSS standards in three domains: Earth Systems, Physical Science-Forces, and Waves-Electromagnetic Radiation. It's a great way to introduce the importance of Earth's magnetic field in sustaining life on our planet, and to discuss whether there are viable "Planet B" options for human habitation in our solar system.

NGSS Standards (9)

Subjects Levels Resource Types
- Solar System
= Earth
= Mars
Education Foundations
- Learning Theory
= Representations
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Cooperative Learning
= Inquiry Learning
= Modeling
- Technology
= Multimedia
Electricity & Magnetism
- Magnetic Fields and Forces
= Magnetic Fields
- Magnetic Materials
= Magnetic Magnetization
- High School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Laboratory
= Student Guide
- Assessment Material
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Activity
- Laboratory
- Assessment
- New teachers
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