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Storm Damage

June 23, 2017

Solar storms can create all sorts of trouble. They can knock out power grids, cripple orbiting satellites, and disrupt airline schedules and radio communications. And a team of scientists is looking at one other possible form of trouble: stranding events for whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

These marine mammals, known as cetaceans, have internal compasses to help them navigate the world’s oceans. But solar storms are caused by short-circuits in the Sun’s own magnetic field. They can send massive clouds of charged particles toward Earth. These particles cause problems when they hit Earth’s magnetic field.

The researchers suggest that one of those problems is interfering with the navigation of cetaceans.

These animals sometimes strand themselves on the beach, either individually or in groups. There are many possible causes for the strandings, including diseases and storms. And sonar causes some strandings by interfering with the animals’ internal sonar, which they use to locate both prey and others of their own kind.

Because the animals have an internal compass to sense Earth’s magnetic field, though, the researchers suggest that solar storms could be another cause of strandings. The team will comb through many years of observations of strandings and solar storms. They’ll compare the two to see if there’s a relationship — perhaps identifying another threat to these beautiful creatures.

Tomorrow: three stars for the price of one.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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