In navigation or surveying, the chief device for direction finding on the Earth's surface. Compasses may operate on magnetic or gyroscopic (see gyroscope) principles or by determining the direction of the Sun or a star. The oldest and most familiar type is the magnetic compass, used in different forms in aircraft, ships, and land vehicles and by surveyors. Magnetic compasses work as they do because the Earth itself is a magnet with a north-south field (see geomagnetic field) that causes freely moving magnets to align themselves with the field.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on compass, visit

Seen & Heard

What made you look up compass? Please tell us what you were reading, watching or discussing that led you here.

Get Our Free Apps
Voice Search, Favorites,
Word of the Day, and More
Join Us on FB & Twitter
Get the Word of the Day and More