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Where does a compass really point?

A compass in the Northern Hemisphere truely does point in a northerly direction, but not to the North Pole. Instead, the compass points to the North Magnetic Pole, which, as Sir James Clark Ross discovered in 1831, is located at the northernmost point of the Artic coast of North America. Similarly, a compass in the Southern hemisphere always points to the South Magnetic Pole, which is firmly planted south of Australia, in Antarctica.

The different directions their compasses pointed, when traversing the high-seas of the Northern Hemisphere, baffled ancient mariners. Their modern counterparts understand, and compensate for, the differences in the North Pole and the Northern Magnetic Pole, and chart their courses accordingly. The differences in the poles proves minor, in comparison to the tricks the Northern Magnetic Pole pulls from its home of Boothia. The bane of boyscouts, as they attempt to navigate with, or without, the benefit of their trusty compasses, is the fact that this Pole chooses to roam about in a 20-mile circle, and to shift its course between day and night.

This 20-mile variance, however, is not one of global proportions. Modern sea-farers compensate for the Northern Magnetic Pole's perpetual motion, by using charts, and tools other than the compass. All things considered, 20 miles is a minor measure for distant travelers to take into account in adjusting their travel agenda.

Thankfully, the Southern Magnetic Pole spares sailors the navigational nightmare its Northern nemesis does. In the south, compass needles actually do point true South, to the South Magnetic field.

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