A colleague and I were discussing Google street view (see previous post) and Google Earth today when he mentioned that using Google Earth, researchers have found that grazing animals, such as cows, tend to align themselves in a North-South direction. This would imply that these animals can sense the Earth's magnetic field. I responded that, in a possibly related story, one of the Google street view cars had hit a deer. Conclusion: get back to work.
Later, a good friend who now works at NASA called to let me know that he had run into a ground-breaking peer reviewed article. As it turns out, low frequency disturbances of the Earth's magnetic field (say, from power lines) effects the animals' orientation, breaking the typical poleward tendencies.
What can't science do?
I will now desperately try to make this relevant to this blog. During solar storms, there are strong deflections of the Earth's magnetic field, even on the surface. This leads to a plethora of effects: overloading of electric relay stations, intense heating of long oil pipelines, and... THE CONFUSION OF OUR CATTLE, WHO PREFER TO FACE NORTH-SOUTH.
Space weather affects us all. We must remain vigilant.