Magnetic cow findings cause row among Google Earth researchers

November 15, 2011 by Bob Yirka weblog

(PhysOrg.com) -- Sometimes, scientists hard at work in their field, come across findings that they cannot explain, and instead of simply writing a paper describing what they’ve seen, they instead choose to write a paper describing what they think their observations have shown. Case in point, back in 2008, a group of guys with Biology and wildlife backgrounds were apparently sitting around looking at pictures taken by Google Earth, when they noticed that there seemed to be a pattern in the way some cows in a pasture aligned themselves. After looking at more pictures, a larger pattern began to emerge. Oddly enough, the cows seemed to be aligning themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field lines. The group, led by Hynek Burda wrote up a paper describing what they’d found and had it published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Later, the team did additional research and found that no such kinds of lining up occurred around power lines which they thought might disrupt the cow’s ability to sense magnetic fields.

When the paper came out, it was followed by a bit of media noise, some of which poked a little bit of fun at the whole idea. Others responded that cows lining up is nothing new, they do it to get the best angle on the sun to help keep warm, or to avoid a cold wind. But to do it based on the Earth’s magnetic field, seemed, well, a little out there.

Then, because the whole thing was technically based on science, another group decided this year to see if they could replicate what the first group had found. Unfortunately, this second group failed to find any real good examples to back up the claims made by the first, and said so in their paper published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A.

The first group, clearly annoyed at the findings of the second group, asked to have a look at what they had been looking at in basing their findings, and lo and behold, found, at least to their eyes, all manner of errors, not the least of which was that the second group seemed to be looking at hay bales, barns and other inanimate objects in addition to the cows that were supposed to be the focus of the research. They also found that the second group had apparently been looking at individual cows, rather than at herds overall. This led them to conclude that the work done by the second group was flawed and thus their findings were not valid.

The second team then responded by stating rather emphatically that they had not studied inanimate objects but did suggest that the two teams may have been looking at different pictures, which might account for some discrepancies in findings. They also said they won’t be conducting any further research on the topic.

Luckily, others have also had a look at the work that both teams did and have done some looking of their own, and most apparently, at least at this point, are siding with the first team, saying that there does indeed seem to be some evidence that shows that , for whatever reason, do indeed tend to align themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field lines. Which means, of course, we can all smile inwardly and get on with our day, safe in the knowledge that the world’s scientists are hard at work trying to solve the great mysteries of our time.

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via Nature

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28 comments

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Eikka
4 / 5 (6) Nov 15, 2011
You know, they actually feed cows magnets to collect all the little bits of metal that they pick up while eating.

http://en.wikiped...w_magnet

Any magnetic sense that the cow might have would be totally swamped by the local distortion in the field that the cow itself produces because it has eaten a fairly powerful magnet.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 15, 2011
Wonder if they thought of that?
Isaacsname
5 / 5 (2) Nov 15, 2011
They've been digesting ferrite magnets, in turn broken down into nanoparticles by the cow's body, thus becoming superparamagnetic due to having a single domain, deposited in the brain, and extremely sensitive to external magnetic fields, thus influencing bovine posturing. The precise dependence can be calculated from the Néel-Arrhenius equation.

I have to go now, I'm getting a call on my banana phone ;)

WhiteJim
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 15, 2011
maybe the cow magnets are to blame. The magnets are acting like a compass in their gut and the cows line up acordingly
theknifeman
2.1 / 5 (14) Nov 15, 2011
Finally an article pointing out what I've been posting all along. Scientists wasting time and money on worthless research. By the way, a steak floating in water on a plate does not align itself with the earths magnetic field unless you first magnetize it by wrapping in heavy insulated wire and putting significant current through it. I am seeking additional funding for hamburger research should you care to donate.
Bitflux
5 / 5 (3) Nov 15, 2011
Where can i buy one to put on my fridge?
Vendicar_Decarian
2.3 / 5 (9) Nov 15, 2011
Can anyone out there who is married to a cow shed any light on this?

Nerdyguy
5 / 5 (2) Nov 15, 2011
You know, they actually feed cows magnets to collect all the little bits of metal that they pick up while eating.

http://en.wikiped...w_magnet

Any magnetic sense that the cow might have would be totally swamped by the local distortion in the field that the cow itself produces because it has eaten a fairly powerful magnet.


Fascinating. I grew up in a big cow state, and I'd never heard of that. At first I thought you were being facetious, until I read the link. I'd be curious if that came up in the research (or lack thereof) mentioned in the article.
_nigmatic10
5 / 5 (3) Nov 16, 2011
I'm so getting a cow compass now.
kochevnik
4.4 / 5 (9) Nov 16, 2011
Udderly fascinating.
sherriffwoody
5 / 5 (3) Nov 16, 2011
No one I know feeds their cattle magnets. Theres something wrong with the environment if you need to. I find my cattle prefer to stand into the wind when they shit and piss.
eHofmann
5 / 5 (4) Nov 16, 2011
... have they thought of the possibility that the cows inner magnetic field actually creates earth magnetic filed and not the other way round ... speaking of which, I just discovered another oddity ... the fingers of a hand point all (nearly) in the same direction ... think about that ...
semmsterr
not rated yet Nov 16, 2011
Open Curiosity, not tailoring our observations to fit our prejudices and assumptions, is important to making scientific discoveries. In fact, any discoveries.
Isaacsname
5 / 5 (1) Nov 16, 2011
Most modern cow magnets are actually made to be slowly digestable, also many are laced with vitamin and mineral supplements.
JonA
5 / 5 (1) Nov 16, 2011
My metastudy suggests that what is really going on here is that hay bales and barns are lined up normal to the Earth's magnetic field.
That cows line up aligned with the magnetic field is a trivial consequence.
tadchem
5 / 5 (2) Nov 16, 2011
Iron that can be digested loses its magnetic properties, which are associated with the crystal structure.
Cow magnets are generally Alnico, which is indigestible and cheaper than rare-earth magnets.
One magnet works for the life of the cow.
There are no 'supplements' in cow magnets.
Cow magnets are used mosly for dairy cattle because most beef cattle are fed pre-screened food at feed lots, and probably will not live long enough for 'hardware disease' to become an issue.
Isaacsname
5 / 5 (1) Nov 16, 2011
Really ? When I did 6 years worth of internships in western PA, prime dairy country, we used mainly ferrite magnets, also , What about CP-6 SrFe chelated magnets for example ?
barakn
5 / 5 (2) Nov 16, 2011
You know, they actually feed cows magnets to collect all the little bits of metal that they pick up while eating.

http://en.wikiped...w_magnet

Any magnetic sense that the cow might have would be totally swamped by the local distortion in the field that the cow itself produces because it has eaten a fairly powerful magnet.

Yes, except that in order to to prevent the magnet from pulling metallic debris from another stomach chamber and piercing the stomach lining, they reduce the range of the magnet by making it a quadrupole (or higher order) magnet, not a dipole. This also helps the metallic object line up along the length of magnet rather than sticking off one end like the blade of a knife.
MIKEE2011
5 / 5 (2) Nov 16, 2011
One detail about the study: as it was performed using Google Earth, I presume all cows observed for the studies were observed during daylight hours. This raises the following lines of further research:
1. Do cows lie down at night along magnetic lines?
2. Do cows align themselves either relatively parallel or perpendicular to the sun during early morning, the noon hour, and late afternoon? Could the desire to be warmer or cooler affect the cited studies?
3. Does the effect vary by latitude, by season, by weather, by distance from water, by temperature? There are so many reasons cows align themselves when in herds - which is the major factor, what are the minor factors, and how are these factors ordered?
4. Do elephants, other large ungulates, or ground-feeding birds do the same thing? Is there a size factor to the effect among animals?

Go for it!
Tom_Armstrong
5 / 5 (1) Nov 16, 2011
How'd they get them to float?
Redus Devilus
5 / 5 (1) Nov 16, 2011
maybe they are bewitched?

i think these guys are onto something: my body slowly orients toward magnetic north when i am floating in the pool - without electric current running through wires wrapped around my body. =8-o
Callippo
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 16, 2011
One detail about the study: as it was performed using Google Earth, I presume all cows observed for the studies were observed during daylight hours.
It's even more problematic than that. The satellite photos used for Google Earth are snapped at the clear sky, when the Sun is high which minimizes the shadows. I'd orient itself in the north-south direction being a cow under such a circumstances. For example, "magnetic mounds" of termites are oriented in north-south direction from good reasons. Does it mean, termites are magnetic too?
Moonrunner
5 / 5 (1) Nov 16, 2011
Just in case you didn't know -- the images Google uses, although called 'satellite' images, are actually taken by low flying aircraft. Also, the images are made using a monochrome camera with Red, Green and Blue filters to create a composite color image. (Few people seem to know this.)

My guess is that the aircraft navigate using longitude and latitude -- but in the unlikely circumstance that the aircraft fly using magnetic north to navigate, it may be that the cows are simply reacting to the aircraft overhead.
ssilk
5 / 5 (2) Nov 16, 2011
There was a commercial out here in the Bay Area for Berkeley Farms (Farms in Berkeley?) where Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd)says he feeds his cows food that is rich in iron, magnesium and phosphorus. Did it help? I don't know. But they all wake up up pointing north.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
maybe the cow magnets are to blame. The magnets are acting like a compass in their gut and the cows line up acordingly


So if a magnet lodges itself in there pointing upwards, the cow prefers to stand on its forelimbs?
Nerdyguy
5 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
Just in case you didn't know -- the images Google uses, although called 'satellite' images, are actually taken by low flying aircraft. Also, the images are made using a monochrome camera with Red, Green and Blue filters to create a composite color image. (Few people seem to know this.)

My guess is that the aircraft navigate using longitude and latitude -- but in the unlikely circumstance that the aircraft fly using magnetic north to navigate, it may be that the cows are simply reacting to the aircraft overhead.


Not sure where you got this info. It might be correct, or it's possible that they use multiple sources, one of which is aircraft photos, but there are many references at the Google site and elsewhere discussing the images "from satellites". Many of them, recently, have even been live feeds. The Google Earth Blog discusses it in the link below.

http://www.gearth...y_1.html
and7barton
5 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2011
I'd noticed cows often facing in the same direction long ago.
I'd always assumed they were keeping an eye on the herd leader, who would be grazing ahead of all the other herd members. Wherever the dominant cow tended to walk, the others would tend to submissively keep to the side or behind it, probably all of them also keeping the same rule with regard to the general "pecking order" of all the herd members.
Humpty
1 / 5 (1) Nov 20, 2011
If the cows are christians, then they face god, if they are muslim, then they face Mekka.

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