What would cause the needle of a compass to point toward the east?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A properly functioning compass will always point towards magnetic north. This is because the magnetic pin in the compass will align itself to the top of the planet's magnetic field and point itself in that particular direction. If a compass is pointing east, this could indicate that something is wrong with it.

Perhaps the most likely reason a compass would point East is that there is a strong magnetic field close by in that direction. If something is producing a stronger magnetic attraction than the planet's own magnetic field, then that could override the normal function of a compass and point it in that direction. Some things to look for that could create this interference would be power lines, a large battery, or even a large source of magnetized metal, such as iron. These all produce their own electromagnetic fields, although they weaken quickly over distance.

Another reason why a compass might point east is that the needle's free-flowing movement has become impaired in some way. A compass needle is designed to float freely. However, if it has been damaged, bent, or if it has debris in the way, it won't be able to turn to face North. If the needle will not turn as you turn the compass, this is possibly the reason why.

One final, but unlikely reason to consider is if you and your compass are actually West of the magnetic north pole. Magnetic north is not the same as true north. The magnetic north pole is a wandering point that currently lies in the Canadian Arctic. If you were as far north as the magnetic north pole, but to its west, your compass would point East.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial