Birds can ‘see’ the Earth’s magnetic field

NewScientist.com news service – Catherine Brahic

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It has been debated for nearly four decades but no one has yet been able to prove it is chemically possible. Now good evidence suggests that birds can actually “see” the lines of the Earth’s magnetic field.

Klaus Schulten of the University of Illinois, proposed forty years ago that some animals – including migratory birds – must have molecules in their eyes or brains which respond to magnetism. The problem has been that no one has been able to find a chemical sensitive enough to be influenced by Earth’s weak geomagnetic field.

Now Peter Hore and colleagues at the University of Oxford have found one.

Cryptochromes are a class of light-sensitive proteins found in plants and animals, and are thought to play a role in the circadian clock, in regulating plant growth, and timing coral sex. A few years ago, Henrik Mouritsen of the University of Oldenburg in Germany showed that they were present in the retinal neurons of migratory garden warblers, and that these cells were active at dusk, when the warblers were performing magnetic orientation.

Weak but radical

Cryptochromes have not yet been made in the lab and obtaining them is difficult, but Hore’s team has now shown that a related molecule – a carotenoid-porphyrin-fullerene triad – with similar chemical properties to cryptochromes is sensitive to weak magnetism.

Like cryptochromes, the CPF molecule, made by Devens Gust of Arizona State University, US, is stimulated by light of specific wavelengths to produce two free radicals. Hore found that he could control the concentrations of each free radical in a solution of CPF by applying a magnetic field.

Hore says most chemists would have predicted that the extremely weak magnetic field could not possibly have an effect on molecules because the electromagnetism would be completely swamped by the molecules’ inherent energy. “They are just tiny, tiny perturbations,” he says.

But how could this influence the direction taken by a migrating bird? Birds appear to orientate at dusk, and cryptochromes form their pair of free radicals when “activated” by the blue light typical of dusk.

Hore suggests that dusk might activate the birds’ magnetic sense, producing the radical pair. The concentrations of each free radical would be controlled by the Earth’s magnetic field, which is known to vary with latitude. As a result, he speculates, the radicals would bind in varying degrees with other signalling molecules, depending on how far north or south the animal is.

Between the lines

How birds decode their “magnetic sense” is another topic of debate. Mouritsen believes they have an additional layer to their vision, which when switched on allows them to visually “see” the Earth’s magnetic field. The situation would be similar to “head-up displays” in fighter jets and some cars, where transparent screens displaying information are built into windscreens.

“Having that on all the time would be distracting, so you can see why it would be desirable for the system to switch on and off,” says Hore.

Cell Phone Spying: Is Your Life Being Monitored?

By JR Raphael – Contributing Writer, [GAS]

It connects you to the world, but your cell phone could also be giving anyone from your boss to your wife a window into your every move.

The same technology that lets you stay in touch on-the-go can now let others tap into your private world — without you ever even suspecting something is awry.

The new generation
Long gone are the days of simple wiretapping, when the worst your phone could do was let someone listen in to your conversations. The new generation of cell phone spying tools provides a lot more power.
Eavesdropping is easy. All it takes is a two-minute software install and someone can record your calls and monitor your text messages. They can even set up systems to be automatically alerted when you dial a certain number, then instantly patched into your conversation. Anyone who can perform a basic internet search can find the tools and figure out how to do it in no time.

But the scarier stuff is what your phone can do when you aren’t even using it. Let’s start with your location.

Simple surveillance
You don’t have to plant a CIA-style bug to conduct surveillance any more. A service called World Tracker lets you use data from cell phone towers and GPS systems to pinpoint anyone’s exact whereabouts, any time — as long as they’ve got their phone on them.

All you have to do is log on to the web site and enter the target phone number. The site sends a single text message to the phone that requires one response for confirmation. Once the response is sent, you are locked in to their location and can track them step-by-step. The response is only required the first time the phone is contacted, so you can imagine how easily it could be handled without the phone’s owner even knowing.

Once connected, the service shows you the exact location of the phone by the minute, conveniently pinpointed on a Google Map. So far, the service is only available in the UK, but the company has indicated plans to expand its service to other countries soon.

Advanced eavesdropping
So you’ve figured out where someone is, but now you want to know what they’re actually doing. Turns out you can listen in, even if they aren’t talking on their phone.

Dozens of programs are available that’ll turn any cell phone into a high-tech, long-range listening device. And the scariest part? They run virtually undetectable to the average eye.

Take, for example, Flexispy. The service promises to let you “catch cheating wives or cheating husbands” and even “bug meeting rooms.” Its tools use a phone’s microphone to let you hear essentially any conversations within earshot. Once the program is installed, all you have to do is dial a number to tap into the phone’s mic and hear everything going on. The phone won’t even ring, and its owner will have no idea you are virtually there at his side.

Legal loopholes
You might be asking how this could possibly be legal. Turns out, it isn’t – at least, not in the ways we just described. Much like those fancy smoking devices designed “for tobacco use only,” the software itself gets by because of a disclaimer saying it doesn’t endorse any illegal use.

I did a little digging with our friends from Flexispy. You won’t find it on the flashy front page, but buried a bit further in the site, the company says you’re fine to use their program only “on a phone that you own, for protecting your children,” or for purposes like “archiving data.” It’s a bit of a contrast from the bold suggestions of “uncover[ing] employee espionage,” “catch[ing] cheating husbands,” and “bug[ging] meeting rooms” that fill the company’s materials. After a little more explanation, their answer as to the legality of the service ends with a broad statement: “Please consult a qualified lawyer in your country for the correct answer to this question.”

Let me make it easier for you: Once you get into listening in to private conversations without either party’s consent, you’re treading rough water that could sweep you straight into jail. Whether it’s an employee or a spouse on the receiving end of your mission, neither federal nor state privacy laws take violations lightly in America. Getting caught could cost you several years behind bars, among other serious penalties.

Detecting and protecting

Finding spyware on your phone isn’t easy. There are dozens of bug detectors available from surveillance companies, but the only true fix is taking your phone to your provider and having them wipe it out altogether. That will restore the factory settings and clear out any hidden software that’s running on your phone.

Security experts say there may be some subtle signs your phone is invaded:

  • You seem to have trouble shutting it off, or it stays lit up after you’ve powered down.
  • The phone sometimes lights up when you aren’t making or receiving a call, or using any other function.

  • You regularly hear odd background noises or clicks when you’re on the phone.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to safeguard your cell just yet. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until we see McAfee-style programs to firewall your phone and keep intruders out. For now, though, the only sure-fire form of protection is to keep a close guard on your phone. Don’t accept Bluetooth connections unless you know what they are. Most important, make sure no one has access to install something when you aren’t watching. Otherwise, they may soon be watching you when you least expect it.

UFO buzz puts NT into flap

The Northern Territories News – BEN LANGFORD

A “UFO flap” is taking place and Territorians are needed to help scan the skies during a national spotting session tomorrow.

The Australian UFO Research Network has about 40 people across the country ready for a co-ordinated effort. Network national director Diane Frola said there had been more than 35 sightings in the past seven weeks.

“Certain parts of the world go through what is called a UFO flap … when there’s a multitude of sightings coming from all different areas at the same time,” she said.

“Because it’s been active the past seven weeks we decided the more pairs of eyes looking up the better.” Ms Frola there were only two or three Territorians signed up for tomorrow’s 6.30pm start.

“There have been sightings of triangle-shaped craft with lights underneath, cylinder-shaped craft, there has been craft that look like a wheel of lights,” she said.

“There have been 30 or 40 dancing lights off SA that took off in different directions.”

A navy sailor contacted the Northern Territory News following Thursday’s report of a UFO sighting on Groote Eylandt.

Aaron Clement remembered seeing a similar flying object while in the Gulf of Carpentaria as a seaman on HMAS Kanimbla in July 2006.

“I read it in the paper … and I said ‘get out’ — I saw exactly the same thing,” he said. “It was high up in the sky.

It was like a ball (then) it went orange and went away. Everyone thought it’s a bit strange.”

Thursday’s story prompted several more reports of flying objects.

One woman said she saw a straight-moving ball of light crossing Darwin Harbour last Saturday night, another woman saw “orange, green and white” flashing shapes moving around the moon.

To register for UFO spotting call 1800772288.