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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Getting Bad Vibes?

Courtesy of NASA
Next time you go for an important job interview or take a driving test, check the weather. The space weather, that is.

For years, Russians have looked beyond the confines of the Earth's atmosphere to explain sudden headaches, fatigue, mood swings or their pets going berserk.

What they are looking for is geomagnetic storms, or magnitniye buri. Although little known in the West, these mysterious storms are taken so seriously in Russia that they are forecast along with the rest of the weather on national television channels, radio stations, Internet sites and in newspapers.

And while many Westerners might scoff, recent research seems to support the theory that magnetic storms do affect us, both mentally and physically.

Muscovite Marina Dudko, 50, a science academy graduate, said there was no question that magnetic storms directly affect people.

"Some people react differently, but the main changes are mood swings, headaches and insomnia," she said. "They affect some people in the morning, and some people at night."

Most large celestial bodies, including Earth, are surrounded by magnetic fields known as the magnetosphere. Magnetic storms occur when the magnetosphere is struck by shock waves from the sun, such as solar flares. They usually last for a day, though some magnetic storms have been known to go on for a week.

In the West, magnetic storms' ability to interfere with animals and knock out radio communications has been documented.

It has already been proved that magnetic storms cause migratory animals such as pigeons and dolphins to lose their way. That is because they have internal "compasses" made of the mineral magnetite that is sensitive to magnetic fluctuations.

Races involving homing pigeons have been ruined by the disappearance of the birds during magnetic storms, leading handlers to request advanced forecasts so they can schedule races around the storms.

Radar systems, satellites and radio stations are among human communications that are frequently disrupted by the storms. Military radar that bounces signals off the ionosphere, which is affected by magnetic storms, is unreliable at that time.

Igor Klanishen, general director of the FOBOS center, a company that supplies weather information to news agencies and web sites, said forecasting magnetic storms was important because Russians believe they can be affected by them.


"I don't know what effects the storms have," Klanishen said, "but people really need this information, so we give it to them."

Repeated calls to the space research center at the Russian Academy of Sciences for an explanation of how the storms can affect the health of an individual went unanswered.

But Russians who traditionally tune in to the magnetic storms forecasts are the elderly and those with heart or circulatory problems. Those affected can take special medicine to help them cope during magnetic storms. And this is why.

"The main danger of the magnetic storms is that rhythmical changes of the geomagnetic field [magnetosphere] occur in the range of 0.5 to 2 hertz," said Elena Baud, a therapist at the Swiss Medical Association in Zurich.

"This is also the frequency at which our heart works. When the rhythm of the sun coincides with the rhythm of a human being it can bring some sad results, especially for people with heart problems."

Dr. Frank Prato, a medical biophysicist and program leader at the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario, who is at the forefront of research into the effects magnetic fields have on biological systems, agreed. "Frequencies associated with the magnetic field are in the same frequency range as human biological systems," he said by telephone from his clinic. "That interference can reduce heart rate variability."

Heart rate variability refers to the beat-to-beat alterations in the heart rate. Reductions in heart rate variability have been linked with hypertension, or high blood pressure, among other problems.

"There is good scientific literature to back up the theory that periods of changing magnetic activity can have a direct effect on biological systems," other than those of migratory animals, Prato said.

Prato's team conducted tests on mice that displayed different behavior when shielded from and then reintroduced to magnetic fields.

He said research on humans was in its infancy, and that deeper investigations were needed to back up claims by people like Maria.

But worrying about the effects of a magnetic storm may cause more problems than the storm itself.

According to a local news agency, doctors in Perm said more people reported health problems during magnetic storms, but that was because they had been warned about the storms and as a result were worrying too much about their health.

Doctors there also said that now magnetic storm forecasts are published in newspapers less frequently, the storm periods pass practically unnoticed, and the fluctuations in patient numbers are not linked to magnetic activity anymore.

This is complicated by the fact that patients with high blood pressure could be adversely affected by extra concerns over their health that the magnetic storms could in theory cause.

Baud, of the Swiss Medical Association, agreed that the storms could trigger psychosomatic problems.

Years of scientific research may yet uncover the exact manner in which magnetic storms, which cause the dazzling aurora light displays over the poles of the Earth, affect the health and behavior of humans.

Until then and probably beyond, Russians will keep on tuning into the space forecast... which, according to Gismeteo.ru, is all clear for the next two days except for a "slight geomagnetic disturbance" between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Friday.

Nina Shevchenko contributed to this report.