Some birds just can't resist flying too close to the sun — and burning to death in the process.
In California's Mojave Desert, a solar-energy plant is causing birds to burst into flames and fall out of the sky, like tiny fighter jets. A report from the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory on the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System found that the facility's solar panel array has a deadly side effect for local wildlife.
Bloomberg describes how the facility's solar-energy harvesting process works:
An array of 300,000 mirrors covering 3,500 acres focus the sun's rays on three 460-foot towers. The towers contain a liquid that, when heated, powers steam turbines. Those turbines in turn produce enough electricity for about 140,000 homes, without greenhouse gases or other emissions.
What no one seems to have counted on was how the facility, developed by BrightSource Energy Inc., would affect the environment. We now know the answer: It attracts birds and kills them.
How it happens: First, insects are drawn to the reflective light of the solar mirrors. That draws small, insect-eating birds, which in turn draw larger predatory birds. The rays of the mirrors' reflected light produces temperatures from 800 degrees to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Any animal caught in the intense glare of the mirror's rays may catch fire and plummet toward the ground, or spontaneously combust altogether.