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Tiny magnet with subatomic dimensions, equivalent to the flow of electric charge around a loop. Examples include electrons circulating around atomic nuclei, rotating atomic nuclei, and single subatomic particles with spin. On a large scale, these effects may add together, as in iron atoms, to make magnetic compass needles and bar magnets, which are macroscopic magnetic dipoles. The strength of a magnetic dipole, its magnetic moment, is a measure of its ability to turn itself into alignment with a given external magnetic field. When free to rotate, dipoles align themselves so that their moments point predominantly in the direction of the magnetic field. The SI unit for dipole moment is the ampere-square metre.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on magnetic dipole, visit Britannica.com.
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