The vacuum permeability, for example, determines how strongly two current-carrying wires attract or repel each other.

The vacuum permeability, together with the vacuum permittivity \(\varepsilon_0\), determines how large the speed of light \(c\) should be in a vacuum:

Vacuum permeability is the reciprocal of the vacuum permittivity and speed of light squared

Formula anchor$$ \begin{align} c ~=~ \sqrt{\frac{1}{\mu_0 \, \varepsilon_0}} \end{align} $$

Vacuum permeability describes how good the magnetic fields can penetrate the vacuum.

The magnetic field constant also determines how strongly the vacuum can be magnetized. If we want to know how strongly other substances can be magnetized, then we can calculate their permeability \(\mu\):

Here \(\mu_{\text r}\) is the relative permeability and varies from material to material. The relative permeability value describes whether the material is diamagnetic, paramagnetic or ferromagnetic. Iron, for example, has a value of \(\mu_{\text r} = 300 \) to \(\mu_{\text r}= 10\, 000\) depending on the temperature and is very easy to magnetize.

The vacuum permeability can be measured, for example, with the help of two long current-carrying wires which are at a distance \(r\) from each other. For this purpose, the attractive force \(\class{green}{F}\) of two wires is measured, through which (in each) the current \(\class{blue}{I}\) flows:

Formula anchor$$ \begin{align} \mu_0 ~=~ \frac{2\pi \, r \, \class{green}{F}}{L \, \class{blue}{I}^2} \end{align} $$

A more precise way to determine the vacuum permeability experimentally is to measure the fine structure constant \(\alpha\) and then use the following equation:

Determine vacuum permeability by using the fine structure constant

Formula anchor$$ \begin{align} \mu_0 ~=~ \frac{2\,h\,\alpha}{ c \, e^2 } \end{align} $$

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