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Also called a Gaussmeter, after Carl Friedrich Gauss in 1833. It measures the direction and strength of magnetic fields in the vicinity of other affecting objects.
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The earth's magnetic field (the Magnetosphere) varies due to influences of rocks and ores in the ground or the interaction between particles from the sun affecting the Magnetosphere. This is an early instrument for measuring these effects. It could be mounted on a long rod and slid along taking readings at precise intervals.