Magnets will attract or repel over a distance before physically touching each other.

What makes this effect possible? My best guess is that the forces generated by the angular momentum of the electrons in the outer shell produce a "wind" of force that is similar to the draft you feel when a fast moving object passes you.

I'm sure there's an explanation for this, but why is this effect only produced by magnetic fields at a close proximity?

Also, do all atoms have this property but at a scale too small to perceive?


1 Answer 1


Feynman explains it best in this classic video, but here are some of the essentials.

Magnets attract and repel at a distance, and there is really no way of rephrasing that fact which will explain this force in terms of "winds of force" or any similar construct and which will not incur inaccuracies and inconsistencies that will render it completely useless.

You may have heard that physicists understand the world in terms of four fundamental forces, which are gravity, electromagnetism, and two nuclear forces. We mean it when we say they are fundamental: they cannot be reduced to any other explanation.

Your other question,

why is this effect only produced by magnetic fields at a close proximity?

sounds reasonable, but in fact the question is why magnets attract and repel each other at such large distances. As it turns out, the atoms in all matter interact both electrically and magnetically. However, these interactions tend to cancel out. If you want to learn more about this, look up the terms ferromagnetism, paramagnetism, and diamagnetism.

  • $\begingroup$ I understand what you're saying, but humans always want to scrutinize and dissect. We will never be satisfied with an answer like "that's just the way it is" It's a curse and a blessing. The harder we stare, the more complete the disintegration. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ For sure. I didn't say physicists had given up on the pursuit, and we're still trying to find a more fundamental theory that will 'explain' electromagnetism. Unfortunately no such Theory of Everything has worked so far. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 12, 2014 at 12:25

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