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Upcoming solar maximum could scramble migrating birds’ internal compass, new study shows


Migratory birds like the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) struggle to navigate during geomagnetic disturbances caused by space weather. (Image credit: Mike Powels via Getty Images)

Migratory birds in the U.S. struggle to properly navigate when solar storms and other types of space weather disrupt their ability to sense Earth’s magnetic field, a new study shows. The findings suggest that these birds may be seriously handicapped over the next few years as the sun ramps up toward its explosive peak — the solar maximum.

The sun regularly spits out bursts of high-energy particles and radiation, such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), or strong gusts of solar wind. When those outbursts slam into Earth, they can cause temporary fluctuations in the planet’s magnetic shield, or magnetosphere. Scientists already knew these geomagnetic disturbances interfere with other animals’ magnetoreception, or ability to sense the magnetosphere.

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