Do Magnets Work in Space?

It's easy to test many questions about magnets here on earth. If you want to know if aluminum is magnetic you can just grab a soda can and a magnet. But figuring out if magnets work in space is a bit more difficult.

One way would be to test magnets in a vacuum. That might give you an idea about whether magnets work in space. But space also has low gravity, something that is more difficult to simulate here on earth, even in a vacuum.

Probably the best way is to take some magnets up on the International Space Station and give it a try. Luckily they’ve already done just that. In the video below, astronaut Richard Garriott shows you how well magnets work in space. A few things to watch for:

  • He's in space so there's no gravity. That makes the demonstration immediately interesting.
  • He seems a bit worried the magnets will get away. There must be magnetic materials or people elsewhere he's worried about hitting with magnets.
  • The magnet lines up with the earth's magnetic field - just like a compass. As the space station moves around the earth so does orientation of the magnets.

Aurora Borealis – Earth as a Big Magnet
In the video above you saw how the earth's magnet field can travel through space and affect magnets on the International Space Station. This magnetic field also attracts small charged particles in space. When these particles are pulled into the earth’s atmosphere they collide with atoms or molecules in the atmosphere. The end result is that light is given off (you can read about the details on Wikipedia and see some nice images). The effect can be rather breathtaking.

(As seen from international Space Station.)

(As seen from Fairbanks, Alaska)

In Conclusion ... Do Magnets Work in Space?
Based on the video of Richard Garriott on the Space Station we can see that magnets do work in space. Of course, he was inside the space station so we can't be positive they work outside where there is no air. But magnets do work away from the earth. Hey Richard, care to put on a space suit and step outside for a bit?

So, is aluminum magnetic?