Birds can travel the world without any of the gizmos that humans depend on, and a new study suggests how: Our feathered friends might “see” Earth’s magnetic field.
While other mechanisms are thought to help birds navigate, including magnetically sensitive cells within their beaks, their brain regions responsible for vision are in full gear during magnetic navigation, researchers said.
“If you look into the brain of a bird during magnetic compass orientation, only the visual system is highly active,” said study co-author Henrik Mouritsen, a biologist at the University of Oldenburg in Germany, noting that most migratory birds do so at night. “Other regions of the brain are not, so birds could use vision to ‘see’ Earth’s magnetism and orient themselves.”
Mouritsen and his colleagues’ findings are detailed online in a recent issue of the journal PLoS ONE.
The researchers previously discovered molecules called cryptochromes, which change their chemistry in the presence of a magnetic field, in the retinas of migratory birds’ eyes.
“When light hits these molecules, their chemistry changes and magnetism can influence them,” Mouritsen said. The molecules might then affect light-sensing cells in the retina to create images, which would help the brain navigate during flight, he added.
A direct connection between the specialized cells and the region of the bird’s brain active during magnetic orientation, however, had never been shown before.
Mouritsen and his team recently found such connections between the cryptochrome-holding retinal cells and the “cluster N” region of migratory birds’ brains, located in part of the brain responsible for vision.
Mouritsen noted that while the work is exciting, it isn’t direct proof that they can actually “see” Earth’s magnetism during migratory flights at night.
“If we could listen in on the neural connections between the retinal cells and cluster N, and show they actually send magnetically-influenced signals to the brain,” Mouritsen said, “then that would be really compelling evidence that they can see it.”
Even if migratory birds can see Earth’s magnetic field, he noted, plenty of mysteries remain to explain their uncanny navigation.
“Birds also use the sun and stars to navigate, but we’re not certain how,” Mouritsen said. “How do they compute all of this information and end up with a direction to fly in? There are so many steps in this process we simply don’t know about.”
Known for their lethargy, crocodiles weren’t suspected to be top long-distance travelers, but a new study shows that they can cover up to 24 miles a day and find their way home from enormous distances.
To test crocodile swimming skills, researchers relocated three crocs between 32 and 80 miles (52 and 130 kilometers) away from their homes just north of Queensland, a state in the northwest of Australia, and set them free to see how well they could find their way back.
The study technique was largely put into practice by the efforts of the late Steve Irwin. Specially-designed transmitters attached to the back of the reptiles’ heads allowed scientists to monitor progress, with some astounding results: the crocs swam between 6 and 24 (10 and 39 kilometers) a day, much farther than scientists previously thought they could.
One crocodile even swam around the northern tip of the Cape York Peninsula (which juts northward out from Queensland toward Papua New Guinea) to reach home, covering more than about 250 miles (400 kilometers) in 20 days.
“We often thought crocodiles tired very quickly, but here we show very clearly that they are capable of moving long distances for days on end,” said study leader Craig Franklin of the University of Queensland.
Franklin says that the crocs, like birds, probably use many factors to navigate, including the position of the sun, magnetic fields, sight and smell.
“Crocodiles are more closely related to birds than they are any other reptile, so they are possibly using navigation systems similar to birds,” Franklin said.
The data from the satellite tracking study, detailed in the online journal PLoS ONE, show that estuarine crocodiles are capable of moving phenomenal distances over prolonged periods of time in the ocean.
“Hast thou not seen that it is Allah Whose praises all who are in the heavens and the earth celebrate, and so do the birds with their wings outspread? Each one knows his own mode of prayer and praise. And Allah knows well what they do.” (Al Quran 24:42)
The most notable characteristic of bowerbirds is their extraordinarily complex courtship and mating behavior, where males build a bower to attract mates. There at two main types of bowers. One clade of bowerbirds build so-called maypole bowers that are constructed by placing sticks around a sapling, in some species these bowers have a hut-like roof. The other major bower building clade builds an avenue type bower made of two walls of vertically placed sticks. In and around the bower the male places a variety of brightly colored objects he has collected. These objects — usually different among each species — may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, and even discarded plastic items, coins, nails, rifle shells, or pieces of glass. The males spend hours arranging this collection. Bowers within a species share a general form but do show significant variation, and the collection of objects reflects the biases of males of each species and its ability to procure items from the habitat often stealing them from neighboring bowers. Several studies of different species have shown that colors of decorations males use on their bowers match the preferences of females.
Animal behavior of the Australian bowerbird is depicted in this documentary made by David Attenborough:
کس قدر ظاھر ھے نور اس مبداۢ الانوار کا
بن رھا ھے سارا عالم آئينه ابصار کا
چشم مستِ ھر حسيں ھر دم دکھاتی ھےتجھے
ھاتھ ھے تيری طرف ھرگيسوے خمدار کا
These Urdu verses are not translated as the beauty and charm is lost in the translation. These are only for the pleasure of those who know Urdu.
Work of Sir David Attenborough and many other naturalists can be viewed and appreciated in an all encompassing Islamic paradigm, I could cite majority of Attenborough’s work and video footage as support for my thesis of the anesthesia of familiarity: there should be a Creator of this Universe. If one is able to appreciate how he is dividing reality that we can only study natural mechanisms and by definition supernatural mechanisms if any are beyond the scope of science and human observations and the paradigm that he is creating for his scientific work, we can bring his science and metaphysics as proposed here to a happy co-existence. Now, without reframing or hijacking any further all his work to support my claims, here, I want to present a short clip of his interview on the topic of ‘Science & Religion,’ to remove a concern that he brings up in this vidoe:
He makes some good observations about nature and religion and then raises a question. The issue raised in this clip is the question of suffering in our world. This question is very well answered in a chapter of Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth. The chapter is titled, the question of suffering.
Let me quote here the concluding pargagraph, in the later editions of the legendary book of Sir Charles Darwin, on the Origin of Species that can make one quickly conceptualize the role of suffering in the grand scheme of things:
“From the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been breathed, by the Creator, into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
Once the question about suffering is understood as a tool for evolution, as Charles Darwin suggested, then one is ready to fully appreciate the beauty of God’s creation as suggested by many of the verses of the Holy Quran and the writings of the Messiah of this age, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The Urdu verses above are by him and some excerpts are quoted below under the heading Islamic metaphysics.
Sir Charles Darwin was also a believer in God and liked to call himself a theist. He writes, “Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason, and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.”
Limits of probability
I will build metaphors to demonstrate the limits of probability in my knol, Stephen Hawking has a change of heart: God did not create Universe?:
He is Allah, the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner. His are the most beautiful names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise. (Al Quran 59:25)
The Messiah of this age, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad teaches us that every thing in the universe is sustained by the Providence of Allah, All Mighty. He writes, “Again, Allah possesses many varieties of beneficence. Of these four are basic. According to their natural order, the first is the Sustainer of the Universe, as stated in Surah Fatiha. This means that the Providence of the Supreme God – that is, creating, sustaining and leading to the desired perfection – is operative and pervasive throughout the Universe, in the heavens, in the earth, in bodies, in souls, in the realm of substance and in the realm of essence and in animals, vegetables and minerals and all other realms. All are sustained by His Providence. Man receives sustenance from the spring of Divine Providence, from the early embryonic, even pre-embryonic state, to the time of death, and beyond in the stage of life in the hereafter. The Providence of God, because of its extending over all spirits and bodies and beasts and vegetables and minerals and the rest, has been called the most universal benevolence. For, every object that is extant is the beneficiary of this Divine attribute and every entity owes its very existence to it. Divine Providence is thus the creator of every existing thing and sustainer of every extant object, yet it is man that benefits most by it, for the entire creation of God is of service to man. Man has, therefore, been reminded that his God is the Lord and Providence of the Universe, so that the horizon of his hopes may be extended and he may believe that God, the Supreme, has immense beneficial powers and that He can bring into being an extensive variety of means for his benefit.”
Again he writes:
“There is yet another direction in the word hamd, and that is that Allah, the Exalted and Lord of blessings, says: ‘Oh My servants, know Me through My attributes and recognize Me through My excellences. I certainly do not suffer from any defect or shortcoming. Nay, My Praise worthiness far exceeds the highest limits of praise rendered by those who praise Me. You will not find in the heavens or in the earth any praise worthy feature that is not to be found in My countenance. If you tried to count My excellences you would not be able to number them, even if you exerted yourselves hard and took pains like the dedicated. Search well then if you can light upon a praiseworthy merit that you do not find in Me or can discover an excellence that is beyond Me and My Presence. If you feel that way then you have no knowledge of Me and are bereft of vision. I am known through My glories and excellences and the heavy clouds saturated with My blessings indicate the plenitude of My bounties. Those who believe in Me as comprehending all perfect attributes and all excellences and attribute to Me whatever perfection they observe anywhere and whatever glory they can conceive of in the highest flights of their imagination and ascribe to Me every grandeur that their minds and vision may observe and every power that is reflected in the mirror of their thoughts, are indeed the people who are treading the paths that lead to true recognition of Me. They have grasped the Truth and they will be successful. Be up then (may Allah keep watch over you) and seek earnestly for the attributes of Allah, the Glorious, and reflect over them like deep thinkers. Seek diligently and ponder every aspect of perfection searching for it in every overt and covert manifestation of this universe as a greedy person occupies himself incessantly with the pursuit of the object of his desires. When you arrive at the comprehension of the fullness of His perfection and begin to perceive His fragrance, it is then that you have found Him. This is a mystery that is unveiled only to those who are earnest seekers of guidance.”
To read a review of a series of MTA (Muslim Television Ahmadiyya) documentaries, discussing the attributes of Allah go to:
Aurora borealis, or northern lights
Aurora borealis are caused by the solar winds, according to Encyclopedia Britannica online:
“Auroras are caused by the interaction of energetic particles (electrons and protons) from outside the atmosphere with atoms of the upper atmosphere. Such interaction occurs in zones surrounding Earth’s magnetic poles. During periods of intense solar activity, auroras occasionally extend to the middle latitudes; for example, the aurora borealis has been seen as far south as 40° latitude in the United States. … In addition to Earth, other planets in the solar system that have atmospheres and substantial magnetic fields—i.e., Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—display auroral activity on a large scale.”
In other words aurora are a proof and demonstration for the existence of solar winds, earth’s atmosphere and megnatopshere of earth.
Megnatosphere is of fundamental importance in making our planet biophylic. According to Britannica online:
“The Earth, in contrast to Mars and Venus, has a significant surface magnetic field (approximately 0.5 gauss), which, like its gravitational field, becomes weaker as the distance from the centre of the Earth increases.
Besides providing light and heat, the Sun affects the Earth through its ultraviolet radiation, the steady stream of the solar wind, and the particle storms of great flares. The near-ultraviolet radiation from the Sun produces the ozone layer, which in turn shields the planet from such radiation. The soft (long-wavelength) X rays from the solar corona produce those layers of the ionosphere that make short-wave radio communication possible. The harder (shorter-wavelength) X-ray pulses from flares ionize the lowest ionospheric layer, producing radio fadeouts. The Earth’s rotating magnetic field is strong enough to block the solar wind, forming the magnetosphere, around which the solar particles and fields flow.
The Sun emits not only visible light but also a continuous flow of particles known as the solar wind. Most of these particles are electrically charged and interact only weakly with the atmosphere, because the Earth’s magnetic field tends to steer them around the planet. Prior to the formation of the Earth’s iron core and consequent development of the geomagnetic field, however, the solar wind must have struck the top layers of the atmosphere with full force. It is postulated that the solar wind was much more intense at that time than it is today and, further, that the young Sun emitted a powerful flux of extreme ultraviolet radiation. In such circumstances, much gas may have been carried away by a kind of atomic sandblasting that may have had a marked effect on the earliest phases of atmospheric development.
The Earth’s main magnetic field permeates the planet and an enormous volume of space surrounding it. A great teardrop-shaped region of space called the magnetosphere is formed by the interaction of the Earth’s field with the solar wind composed of charged particles (plasma) that streams outward from the Sun. At a distance of about 60,000 kilometres outward toward the Sun, the pressure of the solar wind is balanced by the geomagnetic field. This serves as an obstacle to the solar wind, and the plasma is deflected around the Earth by the resulting bow shock. The magnetosphere so produced streams out into an elongated magnetotail that stretches several million kilometers downstream from the Earth away from the Sun.” Aurora are generally seen only close to the poles of the earth because of the configuration of the megnatosphere. However, with increase in solar wind activity the regions where aurora can be witnessed does increase. For example, in August 2010, NASA reported that there is a 45 percent chance the Aurora Borealis will be seen close to Portland, USA.
Incidentally, such protection is mentioned in the Holy Quran at least twice in very unambiguous language. The Holy Quran says:
وَجَعَلْنَا السَّمَآءَ سَقْفًا مَّحْفُوْظًا وَّهُمْ عَنْ اٰيٰتِهَا مُعْرِضُوْنَ
And We have made the heaven a roof, well protected; yet they turn away from its Signs. (Al Quran 21:33) It is of great interest and joy to the Muslims to read this verse in its context:
Do not the disbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were a closed-up mass, then We opened them out? And We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? And We have made in the earth firm mountains lest it should quake with them; and We have made therein wide pathways, that they may be rightly guided. And We have made the heaven a roof, well protected; yet they turn away from its Signs. (Al Quran 21:31-33)
Again the Holy Quran states, regarding different protecting mechanisms for our planet that include but are not limited to megnatosphere and the earth’s atmosphere:
Who made the earth a bed for you, and the heaven a roof, and caused water to come down from the clouds and therewith brought forth fruits for your sustenance; so do not set up equals to Allah, while you know. (Al Quran 2:23)
Surely, Allah holds the heavens and the earth lest they deviate from their positions. And if they did deviate, none can hold them back but He. Indeed, He is Forbearing, Most Forgiving. (Al Quran 35:42)