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Quantum fragility may help birds navigate

Influence of Earth’s magnetic field on retinal chemistry could aid avian sense of direction

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6:00am, June 27, 2016
birds of a feather

QUANTUM COMPASS  Migrating birds may find their way using sensitive quantum mechanical compasses. A new study suggests that such compasses benefit from the delicate nature of quantum weirdness.

Harnessing the weirdness of the quantum world is difficult — fragile quantum properties quickly degrade under typical conditions. But such fragility could help migrating birds find their way, scientists report in the June New Journal of Physics. Some scientists believe birds navigate with sensitive quantum-mechanical compasses, and the new study suggests that quantum fragility enhances birds’ sense of direction.

Molecules known as cryptochromes, found within avian retinas, may be behind birds’ uncanny navigational skills (SN Online: 1/7/11). When light hits cryptochromes, they undergo chemical reactions that may be influenced by the direction of Earth’s magnetic field, providing a signal of the bird’s orientation.

“At first sight, you wouldn’t expect any

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