Month of Equations: What Does Gauss’ Law in Magnetism Really Mean?

October 2: Gauss’ Law in Magnetism

The second article of the Month of Equations series is about the Gauss Law in Magnetism. So let us find out that what mysteries it holds behind its meaning!

Gauss' Law in Magnetism
Gauss’ Law in Magnetism

Meaning of the Equation of The Gauss Law in Magnetism:

The Gauss Law in magnetism says that Magnetic monopoles do not exist in nature

The inverted triangle in the above equation is known as the del operator.t is really very important to understand the meaning of the Del operator in order to understand the meaning of the Gauss Law. So, let’s begin with understanding the meaning and significance of this Del Operator. It reads as ( i ?/?x + j ?/?y + k ?/?z ) where i, j and k are unit vectors along x, y and z-direction respectively. This operator acts on some function, in this case, the magnetic field. If we take the dot product of this operator with a vector, it is known as divergence. Getting complicated? Let us make it easier.

Previous in Series:What Does Time Dilation Really Mean?

Divergence, as the same suggests, answers the question: Does any point in space act as a source or sink of some quantity? Suppose you take two reference points A and B along the course of a river separated by some distance. Suppose x units of water is crossing point A. If the same amount of water crosses B after traveling some distance, then there is no divergence in the flow of water (here our vector function is the water flow).

If lesser water crosses B than A, then the field (water flow) has negative divergence, i.e. it has a sink and if more water flows through point B, then there is positive divergence, i.e. there is a source in the field. All we want is the net flow, meaning there can be any number of sources or sinks between points A and B, but if the total flow through B remains the same as that of A, then also net divergence is zero. Simple enough to understand!

Now this equation of the Gauss Law says that divergence of magnetic field B is zero. From our above understanding of divergence, this means there is no source or sink of the magnetic field anywhere in the universe. But we know that the magnetic field has a source, the magnet. Here is the point! This equation tells that the net divergence of B is zero. So there is an equal number of sources and sinks of the magnetic field in the universe.

Here the source is the north pole of the magnet from where field lines originate and the sink is the south pole of the magnet where the field lines end. So even if you cut the magnet into two pieces, there is a new magnet with a new north pole and new south pole to keep the net divergence zero. So magnetic monopoles (isolated north or south pole) do not exist in nature. If they exist, the R.H.S. of the above equation will have to change. This equation is one of the 4 Maxwell’s equations of electrodynamics.

Next in Series: What does Kepler’s Third Law Really Mean?

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