A magnetometer is an instrument that measures magnetism—either the magnetization of a magnetic material like a Ferro magnet, or the direction, strength, or relative change of a magnetic field at a particular location. A compass is a simple type of magnetometer, one that measures the direction of an ambient magnetic field.
The first magnetometer capable of measuring the absolute magnetic intensity was invented by Carl Friedrich Gauss in 1833 and notable developments in the 19th century included the Hall Effect, which is still widely used.
Magnetometers are widely used for measuring the Earth’s magnetic field and in geophysical surveys to detect magnetic anomalies of various types. They are also used in the military to detect submarines. Consequently, some countries, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, classify the more sensitive magnetometers as military technology and control their distribution.
Magnetometers can be used as metal detectors: they can detect only magnetic (ferrous) metals, but can detect such metals at a much larger depth than conventional metal detectors; they are capable of detecting large objects, such as cars, at tens of meters, while a metal detector’s range is rarely more than 2 meters.
In recent years, magnetometers have been miniaturized to the extent that they can be incorporated in integrated circuits at very low cost and are finding increasing use as miniaturized compasses (MEMS magnetic field sensor).