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In Brief

Bat Sonar Still a Mystery to Humans Trying to Harness Technology

October 15, 1998

Bat sonar is so much better than anything devised by human technology that the little creatures seem to enjoy rubbing it in. "The bats were essentially turning to us and thumbing their noses," said Brown University researcher James Simmons of tests aimed at challenging bats' sonar ability.

Simmons' experiments, reported in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, are aimed at improving the Navy's sonar to help detect mines underwater. Sonar systems send out a sound and then listen for the echo to bounce back. The time it takes to return tells how far away something is and in which direction. A major factor is the ability to differentiate between two echoes that arrive at almost the same time.

At the wavelengths under study, electronic sonar can differentiate between echoes about 12 millionths of a second apart, while bats can differentiate between echoes 2 to 3 millionths of a second apart.

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Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II

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