An inductor creates a strong magnetic field around a hydrogen-rich fluid, causing the protons to align themselves with the newly created field. The field is then interrupted, and as protons are realigned with Earth's magnetic field, spinning protons precess at a specific frequency. This produces a weak magnetic field that is picked up by the same inductor. The relationship between the frequency of the induced current and the strength of Earth's magnetic field is called the proton gyromagnetic ratio, and is equal to 0.042576 hertz per nanotesla (Hz/nT).
Because the precession frequency depends only on atomic constants and the strength of the external magnetic field, the accuracy of this type of magnetometer is very good. Magnetic impurities in the sensor and errors in the measurement of the frequency are the two causes of errors in these magnetometers.
If several tens of watts are available to power the aligning process, these magnetometers can be moderately sensitive. Measuring once per second, standard deviations in the readings in the 0.01 nT to 0.1 nT range can be obtained.