My sir started a new chapter "magnetism and matter". Sir said that iron fillings form a particular arrangement when sprinkled around a magnet. I saw the figure in my book where it was shown the arrangement of some iron fillings at a distance from the magnet. I didn't get much convinced. If a magnet, which can pull iron fillings lies in front of them, why do they remain at a distance from the it? Why can't they directly attach to the magnet instead of forming those arrangements?

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    $\begingroup$ The magnet isn't strong enough, that's all. A stronger magnet would jsut pull them towards it. $\endgroup$ – Danu Dec 3 '13 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Danu You can post that as an answer. $\endgroup$ – jinawee Dec 3 '13 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ @jinawee I figured it wasn't interesting enough $\endgroup$ – Danu Dec 3 '13 at 20:26

All the filings are resting on a surface where there is friction. If the force due to the magnet does not exceed this friction, the filings won't accelerate to the magnet (only the closest ones experiencing the largest forces do).

Iron is also ferromagnetic, which means it can concentrate magnetic fields. So filings that are too far to be affected by the magnet itself can be attracted to adjacent filings which are concentrating the magnetic field better. This is why most of the filings seem to be more attracted to each other than the magnet itself. But essentially all the magnetic field is caused by the magnet.

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