Do you have a magnetic compass in your head?

earthsky.org | 3/21/2019 | EarthSky Voices
ziggy1023 (Posted by) Level 3


Image via Lightspring/Shutterstock.com.

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Scientists - Humans - List - Organisms - Decades

Scientists have tried to investigate whether humans belong on the list of magnetically sensitive organisms. For decades, there’s been a back-and-forth between positive reports and failures to demonstrate the trait in people, with seemingly endless controversy.

The mixed results in people may be due to the fact that virtually all past studies relied on behavioral decisions from the participants. If human beings do possess a magnetic sense, daily experience suggests that it would be very weak or deeply subconscious. Such faint impressions could easily be misinterpreted – or just plain missed – when trying to make decisions.

Research - Group - Biologist - Neuroscientist - Neuroengineer

So our research group – including a geophysical biologist, a cognitive neuroscientist and a neuroengineer – took another approach. What we found arguably provides the first concrete neuroscientific evidence that humans do have a geomagnetic sense.

Life on Earth is exposed to the planet’s ever-present geomagnetic field that varies in intensity and direction across the planetary surface. Image via Nasky/Shutterstock.com.

Sense - Work

How does a biological geomagnetic sense work?

The Earth is surrounded by a magnetic field, generated by the movement of the planet’s liquid core. It’s why a magnetic compass points north. At Earth’s surface, this magnetic field is fairly weak, about 100 times weaker than that of a refrigerator magnet.

Years - Scientists - Hundreds - Organisms - Branches

Over the past 50 years or so, scientists have shown that hundreds of organisms in nearly all branches of the bacterial, protist and animal kingdoms have the ability to detect and respond to this geomagnetic field. In some animals – such as honey bees – the geomagnetic behavioral responses are as strong as the responses to light, odor or touch. Biologists have identified strong responses in vertebrates ranging from fish, amphibians, reptiles,...
(Excerpt) Read more at: earthsky.org
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