Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Earth's magnetic field


Several mammalian species spontaneously align their body axis with respect to the Earth’s magnetic field (MF) lines in diverse behavioral contexts. Magnetic alignment is a suitable paradigm to scan for the occurrence of magnetosensitivity across animal taxa with the heuristic potential to contribute to the understanding of the mechanism of magnetoreception and identify further functions of magnetosensation apart from navigation. With this in mind we searched for signs of magnetic alignment in dogs. We measured the direction of the body axis in 70 dogs of 37 breeds during defecation (1,893 observations) and urination (5,582 observations) over a two-year period. After complete sampling, we sorted the data according to the geomagnetic conditions prevailing during the respective sampling periods. Relative declination and intensity changes of the MF during the respective dog walks were calculated from daily magnetograms. Directional preferences of dogs under different MF conditions were analyzed and tested by means of circular statistics.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Magnet, Earth, Dynamo theory, Magnetism, Solar wind, Magnetosphere


As multiple spacefaring nations contemplate extended manned missions to Mars and the Moon, health risks could be elevated as travel goes beyond the Earth’s protective magnetosphere into the more intense deep space radiation environment. The primary purpose of this study was to determine whether mortality rates due to cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, accidents and all other causes of death differ in (1) astronauts who never flew orbital missions in space, (2) astronauts who flew only in low Earth orbit (LEO), and (3) Apollo lunar astronauts, the only humans to have traveled beyond Earth’s magnetosphere. Results show there were no differences in CVD mortality rate between non-flight (9%) and LEO (11%) astronauts. However, the CVD mortality rate among Apollo lunar astronauts (43%) was 4-5 times higher than in non-flight and LEO astronauts. To test a possible mechanistic basis for these findings, a secondary purpose was to determine the long-term effects of simulated weightlessness and space-relevant total-body irradiation on vascular responsiveness in mice. The results demonstrate that space-relevant irradiation induces a sustained vascular endothelial cell dysfunction. Such impairment is known to lead to occlusive artery disease, and may be an important risk factor for CVD among astronauts exposed to deep space radiation.

Concepts: Mortality rate, Atherosclerosis, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Blood vessel, Moon, Endothelium, Human spaceflight


Many organisms spanning from bacteria to mammals orient to the earth’s magnetic field. For a few animals, central neurons responsive to earth-strength magnetic fields have been identified; however, magnetosensory neurons have yet to be identified in any animal. We show that the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans orients to the earth’s magnetic field during vertical burrowing migrations. Well-fed worms migrated up, while starved worms migrated down. Populations isolated from around the world, migrated at angles to the magnetic vector that would optimize vertical translation in their native soil, with northern- and southern-hemisphere worms displaying opposite migratory preferences. Magnetic orientation and vertical migrations required the TAX-4 cyclic nucleotide-gated ion channel in the AFD sensory neuron pair. Calcium imaging showed that these neurons respond to magnetic fields even without synaptic input. C. elegans may have adapted magnetic orientation to simplify their vertical burrowing migration by reducing the orientation task from three dimensions to one.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Human migration


THE ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS THAT COULD LEAD TO AN INCREASED RISK FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN INFECTION DURING PROLONGED SPACE FLIGHT INCLUDE: microgravity, stress, radiation, disturbance of circadian rhythms, and altered nutritional intake. A large body of literature exists on the impairment of the immune system by space flight. With the advent of missions outside the Earth’s magnetic field, the increased risk of adverse effects due to exposure to radiation from a solar particle event (SPE) needs to be considered. Using models of reduced gravity and SPE radiation, we identify that either 2 Gy of radiation or hindlimb suspension alone leads to activation of the innate immune system and the two together are synergistic. The mechanism for the transient systemic immune activation is a reduced ability of the GI tract to contain bacterial products. The identification of mechanisms responsible for immune dysfunction during extended space missions will allow the development of specific countermeasures.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Innate immune system, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Immunity, Systemic acquired resistance, Outer space


The most recent “grand minimum” of solar activity, the Maunder minimum (MM, 1650-1710), is of great interest both for understanding the solar dynamo and providing insight into possible future heliospheric conditions. Here, we use nearly 30 years of output from a data-constrained magnetohydrodynamic model of the solar corona to calibrate heliospheric reconstructions based solely on sunspot observations. Using these empirical relations, we produce the first quantitative estimate of global solar wind variations over the last 400 years. Relative to the modern era, the MM shows a factor 2 reduction in near-Earth heliospheric magnetic field strength and solar wind speed, and up to a factor 4 increase in solar wind Mach number. Thus solar wind energy input into the Earth’s magnetosphere was reduced, resulting in a more Jupiter-like system, in agreement with the dearth of auroral reports from the time. The global heliosphere was both smaller and more symmetric under MM conditions, which has implications for the interpretation of cosmogenic radionuclide data and resulting total solar irradiance estimates during grand minima.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Magnetohydrodynamics, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Sun, Plasma, Solar wind, Sunspot


The advent of devices based on single dopants, such as the single-atom transistor, the single-spin magnetometer and the single-atom memory, has motivated the quest for strategies that permit the control of matter with atomic precision. Manipulation of individual atoms by low-temperature scanning tunnelling microscopy provides ways to store data in atoms, encoded either into their charge state, magnetization state or lattice position. A clear challenge now is the controlled integration of these individual functional atoms into extended, scalable atomic circuits. Here, we present a robust digital atomic-scale memory of up to 1 kilobyte (8,000 bits) using an array of individual surface vacancies in a chlorine-terminated Cu(100) surface. The memory can be read and rewritten automatically by means of atomic-scale markers and offers an areal density of 502 terabits per square inch, outperforming state-of-the-art hard disk drives by three orders of magnitude. Furthermore, the chlorine vacancies are found to be stable at temperatures up to 77 K, offering the potential for expanding large-scale atomic assembly towards ambient conditions.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Density, Earth's magnetic field, Atom, Solid-state drive, Computer, SI prefix, Hard disk drive


A 3D numerical model of the earth’s core with a viscosity two orders of magnitude lower than the state of the art suggests a link between the observed westward drift of the magnetic field and superrotation of the inner core. In our model, the axial electromagnetic torque has a dominant influence only at the surface and in the deepest reaches of the core, where it respectively drives a broad westward flow rising to an axisymmetric equatorial jet and imparts an eastward-directed torque on the solid inner core. Subtle changes in the structure of the internal magnetic field may alter not just the magnitude but the direction of these torques. This not only suggests that the quasi-oscillatory nature of inner-core superrotation [Tkalčić H, Young M, Bodin T, Ngo S, Sambridge M (2013) The shuffling rotation of the earth’s inner core revealed by earthquake doublets. Nat Geosci 6:497-502.] may be driven by decadal changes in the magnetic field, but further that historical periods in which the field exhibited eastward drift were contemporaneous with a westward inner-core rotation. The model further indicates a strong internal shear layer on the tangent cylinder that may be a source of torsional waves inside the core.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Fundamental physics concepts, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Torque, Rotation, Outer core, Inner core


The Martian limb (that is, the observed ‘edge’ of the planet) represents a unique window into the complex atmospheric phenomena occurring there. Clouds of ice crystals (CO2 ice or H2O ice) have been observed numerous times by spacecraft and ground-based telescopes, showing that clouds are typically layered and always confined below an altitude of 100 kilometres; suspended dust has also been detected at altitudes up to 60 kilometres during major dust storms. Highly concentrated and localized patches of auroral emission controlled by magnetic field anomalies in the crust have been observed at an altitude of 130 kilometres. Here we report the occurrence in March and April 2012 of two bright, extremely high-altitude plumes at the Martian terminator (the day-night boundary) at 200 to 250 kilometres or more above the surface, and thus well into the ionosphere and the exosphere. They were spotted at a longitude of about 195° west, a latitude of about -45° (at Terra Cimmeria), extended about 500 to 1,000 kilometres in both the north-south and east-west directions, and lasted for about 10 days. The features exhibited day-to-day variability, and were seen at the morning terminator but not at the evening limb, which indicates rapid evolution in less than 10 hours and a cyclic behaviour. We used photometric measurements to explore two possible scenarios and investigate their nature. For particles reflecting solar radiation, clouds of CO2-ice or H2O-ice particles with an effective radius of 0.1 micrometres are favoured over dust. Alternatively, the plume could arise from auroral emission, of a brightness more than 1,000 times that of the Earth’s aurora, over a region with a strong magnetic anomaly where aurorae have previously been detected. Importantly, both explanations defy our current understanding of Mars' upper atmosphere.

Concepts: Light, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Sun, Mars, Atmosphere, Plasma, Solar wind


Earth’s magnetic field, one of the most enigmatic physical phenomena of the planet, is constantly changing on various time scales, from decades to millennia and longer. The reconstruction of geomagnetic field behavior in periods predating direct observations with modern instrumentation is based on geological and archaeological materials and has the twin challenges of (i) the accuracy of ancient paleomagnetic estimates and (ii) the dating of the archaeological material. Here we address the latter by using a set of storage jar handles (fired clay) stamped by royal seals as part of the ancient administrative system in Judah (Jerusalem and its vicinity). The typology of the stamp impressions, which corresponds to changes in the political entities ruling this area, provides excellent age constraints for the firing event of these artifacts. Together with rigorous paleomagnetic experimental procedures, this study yielded an unparalleled record of the geomagnetic field intensity during the eighth to second centuries BCE. The new record constitutes a substantial advance in our knowledge of past geomagnetic field variations in the southern Levant. Although it demonstrates a relatively stable and gradually declining field during the sixth to second centuries BCE, the new record provides further support for a short interval of extreme high values during the late eighth century BCE. The rate of change during this “geomagnetic spike” [defined as virtual axial dipole moment > 160 ZAm(2) (10(21) Am(2))] is further constrained by the new data, which indicate an extremely rapid weakening of the field (losing ∼27% of its strength over ca. 30 y).

Concepts: Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Magnet, Earth, Dynamo theory, Magnetometer, Orders of magnitude, Geophysics


The pace of scientific discovery is being transformed by the availability of ‘big data’ and open access, open source software tools. These innovations open up new avenues for how scientists communicate and share data and ideas with each other and with the general public. Here, we describe our efforts to bring to life our studies of the Earth system, both at present day and through deep geological time. The GPlates Portal ( is a gateway to a series of virtual globes based on the Cesium Javascript library. The portal allows fast interactive visualization of global geophysical and geological data sets, draped over digital terrain models. The globes use WebGL for hardware-accelerated graphics and are cross-platform and cross-browser compatible with complete camera control. The globes include a visualization of a high-resolution global digital elevation model and the vertical gradient of the global gravity field, highlighting small-scale seafloor fabric such as abyssal hills, fracture zones and seamounts in unprecedented detail. The portal also features globes portraying seafloor geology and a global data set of marine magnetic anomaly identifications. The portal is specifically designed to visualize models of the Earth through geological time. These space-time globes include tectonic reconstructions of the Earth’s gravity and magnetic fields, and several models of long-wavelength surface dynamic topography through time, including the interactive plotting of vertical motion histories at selected locations. The globes put the on-the-fly visualization of massive data sets at the fingertips of end-users to stimulate teaching and learning and novel avenues of inquiry.

Concepts: Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Geology, Topography, Open source, Geomorphology, Geodesy, Digital elevation model