Christopher Hansteen

Christopher Hansteen and Magnetic Axes

At the end of the eighteenth and into the early nineteenth century, the number and location of magnetic poles was up for debate.

“What may not be expected in a country of eternal light? I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle; and may regulate a thousand celestial observations, that require only this voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent for ever.” Walton, Frankenstein

The scientific drive within contemporary Arctic exploration manifests in Walton's desire to discover Magnetic North, or, as he has it, the "wonderous power which attracts the needle." At the end of the eighteenth and into the early nineteenth century, the number and location of magnetic poles was up for debate. The year after Frankenstein first appeared, the Norwegian mathematician, Christopher Hansteen, published the tract Untersuchungen über den Magnetismus der Erde (1819) in which he theorized, from a number of measurements of magnetic intensity he had taken in different locations, that the earth had two magnetic axes and four magnetic poles – a theory only disproved in 1839 by the German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. Walton's wish to find the principles that "regulate" or make "consistent" all the "seeming eccentricities" of the natural world places him alongside figures like Hansteen and Gauss in the emerging field of geomagnetism.



Illustration:
Asta Hansteen, Portrait of Christopher Hansteen, Christopher Hansteen, Reise-Erindringer: (Christiania: Tønsbergs Forlag, 1859). Photo credit: Public domain.

 


















Illustration:
Christopher Hansteen, Title Page, Untersuchungen über den Magnetismus der Erde (Christiana : Lehmann, 1819). Photo credit: Public domain.