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The Sound of the Aurora

Article #303 • Written by Richard Solensky

Herein lie the first Damn Interesting words of our most recent writer, Richard Solensky.

Aurora over Bear Lake, Alaska
Aurora over Bear Lake, Alaska

If you happen to be reasonably close to one of the Earth's magnetic poles, the next time there’s a particularly intense aurora, go outside. Get as far as you can from sources of noise – traffic, barking dogs, TVs – and listen. Listen carefully.

If conditions are right, you may hear some unusual noises. Earwitnesses have said the sound is like radio static, a small animal rustling through dry grass and leaves, or the crinkling of a cellophane wrapper. Inuit folklore says it's the sound of the spirits of the dead, either playing a game or trying to communicate with the living.

It’s the sound of the aurora itself. And the cause is currently unknown. Understanding the phenomenon is made more difficult by the fact that though there are many anecdotal reports, the sound has yet to be recorded.

Aurora displays are caused by the solar wind interacting with the Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere. Because these interactions happen at altitudes of at least sixty kilometers, the sounds heard cannot be made by the aurora directly. Even if the air up there were dense enough to support sound waves, they would disperse and fade long before they reached the ground.

The sounds aren’t common, and there doesn’t seem to be any consistency in their occurrences. What's more, one observer of an aurora may hear the sounds distinctly, while another observer of the same display-- even at the same location-- may not.

The inconsistency makes it difficult to determine the underlying cause of the sounds. As with any faint phenomenon that is difficult to observe and study, theories abound. One hypothesis claims it's all in the observer's head. Modern media has made us used to hearing sound along with visual display, so we sometimes believe we are hearing things even when there is no actual sound. But this doesn’t account for those Inuit legends that predate the technological era, nor does it account for observations made by blindfolded or indoor observers.

Another theory also claims it’s all in your head, but for a different reason. Electrophonic hearing is the direct stimulation of the auditory nerves by external electromagnetic fields. There are reports of people hearing “clicks” and “pops” coincident with lightning flashes, and well ahead of any thunder, that can only be explained this way. The theory is unable to explain why only the sense of hearing is affected - though there are rare reports of people noting odd smells accompanying an aurora display.

The sounds could also be due to what is known as brush discharge. According to this theory, the ionization effects that produce the aurora are technically reaching ground level, but the intensity at low altitudes is not strong enough to produce a visible display. This causes a buildup of static electricity on nearby objects, which intermittently discharges into the atmosphere. In effect, this produces microscopic bolts of lightning. If this theory is correct, the sound the observer is hearing is the result of thousands of these tiny sparks. The effect would be strongest on long, thin, dry objects such as grass or frizzy hair, which are best at bleeding off excess charge.

Of all the hypotheses, the most likely suspect, since it can be duplicated in the lab, is electrophonic transduction. Certain very low frequency radio waves have the same frequency as sound waves. Long, thin conductors – grass, hair, wire eyeglass frames – serve as antennae for these radio waves. When these antennae receive the signal, they vibrate and transform the radio energy directly into sound.

VLF radio waves have been detected in aurora displays, and have been found to be produced by meteors as well. It is worth noting that sounds similar to those associated with aurora have been heard in conjunction with meteors, and even recorded.

Electrophonic transduction is similar to the cases where dental work turns people’s mouths into radio receivers. That phenomenon is believed to be the result of fillings or braces acting as a crude crystal radio, which can pick up AM signals when close to a strong source. A person’s body acts as the antenna, and the combination of saliva and metal fillings can behave like a diode to "rectify"- or demodulate - a strong AM signal. A loose filling or bridgework can act as a small speaker, and the sound is carried to the ear through bone conduction. Rusty pipes have also been heard to function as radio receivers in this fashion. Electrophonic transduction is different from this phenomenon in that it does not involve rectifying or demodulation.

But there’s still no firm consensus as to whether the sounds of the aurora are the product of very low frequency radio waves, electromagnetic stimulation, or over-active imaginations.

So the next time there’s a nice display in your area, go outside. Get as far away from everything else as you can. Look up, and listen.

You might just hear something inexplicable.

 

And the Northern Lights in the crystal nights came forth with a mystic gleam.
They danced and they danced the devil-dance over the naked snow;
And soft they rolled like a tide upshoaled with a ceaseless ebb and flow.
They rippled green with a wondrous sheen, they fluttered out like a fan;
They spread with a blaze of rose-pink rays never yet seen of man.
They writhed like a brood of angry snakes, hissing and sulphur pale...
--Robert W. Service, “The Ballad of the Northern Lights”

Article written by Richard Solensky, published on 16 November 2007. Richard Currently working for his county government as an "office assistant", Richard has a Master's degree in astronomy and is a long-time member of a medieval re-creation society.

Article design by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows.
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78 Comments
Stead311
Posted 16 November 2007 at 03:42 pm

First!

Damn Interesting as always! What a great group of writers we got here!


Stead311
Posted 16 November 2007 at 03:49 pm

I also wonder if electrophonic hearing or electrophonic transduction is the reason why I can hear a television turn on from a different room in my house. Does anyone else get that? And is it related to either of these terms do you think?


NiroZ
Posted 16 November 2007 at 03:59 pm

You mean the high pitched whine?


Kurosau
Posted 16 November 2007 at 04:02 pm

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Mythbusters find that you couldn't receive radio signals with dental work? I'm not suggesting their experimentation was comprehensive, but I imagine their research was.


justjim1
Posted 16 November 2007 at 04:29 pm

In northern Canada while serving with the armed forces a number of years ago, I heard these odd soft sounds coming from the above while watching the aurora filled sky. It was absolutely haunting, like having all speakers on earth tuned into static and set on the lowest possible levels... Damned interesting stuff.


Reaper
Posted 16 November 2007 at 04:42 pm

Kurosau said: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Mythbusters find that you couldn't receive radio signals with dental work? I'm not suggesting their experimentation was comprehensive, but I imagine their research was."

Beat m'to it. I would guess that the phenomenon is a case of 1 out of every 10 people's saliva has the proper chemical makeup to act as a diode, though, and they just so happened to miss the mark.

DI, though. I love reading about Aurora Borealis, and this is one aspect of which I was not aware. That's gotta be a creepy thing to hear. Like the background music of some horror flick wherein a ghost materializes out of some source of static and does all manner of depraved things to the victim. Especially since you pretty much have to be in an otherwise complete silence to hear it...

For all we know, there are at least 10 things we don't, eh? Makes you wonder what we'll be capable of when we attain a more encyclopedic knowledge of this thing called life!


Milkman76
Posted 16 November 2007 at 04:47 pm

Kurosau said: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Mythbusters find that you couldn't receive radio signals with dental work? I'm not suggesting their experimentation was comprehensive, but I imagine their research was."

Busted!


Ironclaw
Posted 16 November 2007 at 04:50 pm

"Electrophonic hearing is the direct stimulation of the auditory nerves by external electromagnetic fields. "

Isn't this similar to the issue where cosmic rays cause space astronauts to see flashes of light in their eyes while they are trying to sleep? http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/mir_lights_030416.html

My thoughts on the matter are that the auroral effect is merely indicative of the presence of magnetic energy in the upper atmosphere. I think its reasonable to suppose that this could cause ducting of cosmic energy to occur. Thus when the aurora appear, there may also consequently also be a ducting of cosmic rays toward the earth, and possibly toward an auditory nerve.

As a ham radio operator, I know that this ducting and reflection effect may be utilized as a communication mode! ( Yes, thats right, you bounce radio waves off of the aurora to talk to someone on the other side of the earth). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_propagation#Auroral_reflection

Ozone density may also play a factor into the equation, but I have nothing to support this.

Just my $0.02


Jo.mansson
Posted 16 November 2007 at 05:00 pm

Couldn't it be the phenomenon that makes some people "hear" colours and "see" sounds?
It's called synesthesia. Since it is quite rare to hear the sound of an aurora, it might be that the few that does are actually experiencing synesthesia.
Here's a wiki article on the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia


thingummy
Posted 16 November 2007 at 05:30 pm

I remember once mentioning the "sound" of the Aurora Borealis to someone and being so harshly pooh-poohed that I never brought it up again. I feel vindicated!! Thank you Richard.

DI!!


Kurosau
Posted 16 November 2007 at 06:13 pm

Jo.mansson said: "Couldn't it be the phenomenon that makes some people "hear" colours and "see" sounds?

It's called synesthesia. Since it is quite rare to hear the sound of an aurora, it might be that the few that does are actually experiencing synesthesia.

Here's a wiki article on the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia"

Given the rarity of that phenomenon, I would think that the reported instances would be far fewer.


Gerry Matlack
Posted 16 November 2007 at 06:24 pm

Jo.mansson said: "Couldn't it be the phenomenon that makes some people "hear" colours and "see" sounds?

It's called synesthesia. Since it is quite rare to hear the sound of an aurora, it might be that the few that does are actually experiencing synesthesia.

Here's a wiki article on the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia"

An interesting thought, but synesthetes have connections between their senses full time, not something that is restricted to one specific phenomenon such as observing the aurora.


Anonymousx2
Posted 16 November 2007 at 07:09 pm

Mr. Solensky:

Welcome aboard. You definitely belong to be a part of the DI staff because both the article and your writing are superb.

I think that you are a person who will also enjoy reading Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything." It was a national bestseller, and The New York Times said this about the book: "Destined to become a modern classic of science writing."

You might also like Michael Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time." Shermer, as was his friend Carl Sagan, is a skeptic, not a cynic. All of his books are great stuff, but I especially like this one.


fuegodelsol
Posted 16 November 2007 at 08:07 pm

I'm not at all surprised that a few people report hearing sounds from the aurora, and of all the theories presented I would most readily agree with the theory that the sound is all supplied by the brains/imaginations of the people who hear them.

I was watching the Geminid meteor shower last year, and when a particularly bright meteor streaked across the sky, I could almost swear that I heard it as it was shooting past (it sounded like the bastard child of TV static and a rocket launch heard from a great distance). Thinking about it afterwards, I knew that I couldn't have really heard the meteor (due to the same reasons explained in the article as to why you can't hear aurora... and, FYI I didn't wear any glasses back then, and I do not have any dental work). So I came to the conclusion that my imagination supplied the auditory accompaniment to that dazzling meteor I saw that night. What strange and wonderful things our minds can do.

Kudos on a well written and very interesting article, Mr. Solensky!


orc_jr
Posted 16 November 2007 at 08:25 pm

That second picture must be one of the most beautiful images I've seen of our planet. And this was a very well-written and DI article :)


knowsalot12
Posted 16 November 2007 at 09:41 pm

The exact mechanism may not be known but the fact that one can pick up RF noise from the passage of vast vast amperes of charged solar particles passing through the atmosphere across thousands of miles somehow doesn't surprise me. The solar wind is an incredible powerful force, without the magnetosphere it would blast away our nice little gas atmosphere within a month (if I remember correctly) and send it wisping through space. The particles are incredibly energetic. DI for sure, but not surprising, its the most visible portion of an incredible amount of energy passing through our planet.


knowsalot12
Posted 16 November 2007 at 09:43 pm

However I'll also say that the power of suggestion is incredibly powerful so the imagined hypothesis certainly holds some weight. But if theres anytime the human nervous system might pick up some noise it seems like being under the path of solar radiation is a good spot.


colghan
Posted 16 November 2007 at 11:19 pm

Stead311 said: "I also wonder if electrophonic hearing or electrophonic transduction is the reason why I can hear a television turn on from a different room in my house. Does anyone else get that? And is it related to either of these terms do you think?"

Yeah, I've had that for as long as I can remember. I can even hear a tv inside turn on when i'm outside!


HiEv
Posted 16 November 2007 at 11:26 pm

I'm in the "it's all in their heads" camp, at least until further evidence appears. I'm too familiar with how easily fooled our senses are, and because it can't be recorded, the electrical fields from an aurora aren't as strong as in the lab for electrophonic hearing (a.k.a. "microwave auditory effect") and do not produce the side-effects, and different people hear different sounds (from "harp strings" to "axe chops"), I think the current evidence favors this explanation. At the very least, it is the correct explanation some of the time.


Lisette
Posted 16 November 2007 at 11:31 pm

Awwww I've never actually seen an aurora, let alone hear it!!!
It looked beautiful in Pocohontas though!!! :)


malendras
Posted 17 November 2007 at 02:07 am

Wow. DI, people. It's one of my goals in life to see the Aurora, the pictures I've seen look gorgeous. This would make it a tad more interesting.

Also, I can hear TVs when they're muted. I can walk into the house, hear the noise, walk into the family room and turn off a blank TV that's been left on for hours. Kinda useful sometimes.


howdoyoulikeiceland
Posted 17 November 2007 at 02:22 am

Great DI post. I'm really glad you posted it as I've been thinking theres a sound when i see the Aurora for a while. I'm lucky in that i can see them fairly often up here in Iceland, the sound is not always there, and when it is it's very difficult to explain, or put my finger on.


po8
Posted 17 November 2007 at 03:34 am

malendras said:
Also, I can hear TVs when they're muted. I can walk into the house, hear the noise, walk into the family room and turn off a blank TV that's been left on for hours. Kinda useful sometimes."

The ability to hear whether a muted TV is on is actually well-understood. Inside a traditional TV is a device called a "flyback transformer" that is responsible for generating the high voltage that scans your television tube. As a byproduct, it typically emits a tone at about 15KHz (for television in the US). This is a frequency that is barely perceptible to average human hearing, but that propagates really well. The ability to hear high frequencies rolls off gradually with age; also, TV technicians will eventually develop a notch at 15KHz and be unable to hear normal levels of flyback noise.


Tink
Posted 17 November 2007 at 03:37 am

orc_jr said: "That second picture must be one of the most beautiful images I've seen of our planet. And this was a very well-written and DI article :)"

Yes, the pictures are beautiful!
Thank you, Richard Solensky, for a DI! article, looking forward to more of your contributions!

...There are reports of people hearing “clicks” and “pops” coincident with lightning flashes, and well ahead of any thunder, that can only be explained this way. The theory is unable to explain why only the sense of hearing is affected - though there are rare reports of people noting odd smells accompanying an aurora display.

I have always heard lighting crackling, during a strike or while it spreads in a fan accross the sky; didn't know that was unusual!
I wonder if the smell is similar to the ozone smell before the rain comes?


another viewpoint
Posted 17 November 2007 at 10:10 am

...never seen Aurora? Drive West from Chicago about 40 miles...

otherwise, beware the sounds of silence!


Craigr
Posted 17 November 2007 at 10:16 am

No surprise. Have heard the sounds before. In about 1971 heading west out of Mpls., Mn. I wondered what the sound was I was hearing so I pulled off the expressway and got out of the car. Sounded like a low buzzing and soft crackling. Cool.


God
Posted 17 November 2007 at 12:03 pm

Incredible what the "placebo" effect can cause(in a way).Or it could be that the aura is sending radio signals?Like another type that can go to our minds?If I'm right(although I'm never)I hear "mind control"........


TBM
Posted 17 November 2007 at 12:29 pm

I used to drive a fuel truck up to Yellowknife, NWT, Canada and would see the most awesome displays of the Northern Lights in the winter. Though it did not happen all the time, on some of the most intense displays I did hear a sound. It was sort of a crackling/rustling type sound almost like a cross between static discharge and semi dried leaves being blown along the ground in the fall. I loved it and found it to be extremely soothing. I never thought to record it though as I always thought everyone could hear it. I never even mentioned it to anyone I don't think. It always seemed to occur on the days the air was so cold it was crystal clear and you could see forever.


martym
Posted 17 November 2007 at 01:19 pm

HiEv said: "I'm in the "it's all in their heads" camp, at least until further evidence appears. I'm too familiar with how easily fooled our senses are, and because it can't be recorded, the electrical fields from an aurora aren't as strong as in the lab for electrophonic hearing (a.k.a. "microwave auditory effect") and do not produce the side-effects, and different people hear different sounds (from "harp strings" to "axe chops"), I think the current evidence favors this explanation. At the very least, it is the correct explanation some of the time."

Arghhh!!!!

I had to finally register just to repond to the "it's all in your head" crap!

It seems so easy for those who aren't there to dismiss something as mere imaginiation just because science hasn't proven it. But I HAVE heard the Northern lights. Even though I've probably seen them a dozen times where I live, I've only heard them once, on a nice clear night, when I was alone. It was surpising to hear them, because I had never heard them before, nor had I heard the theory they can make sounds. I've listened for them since, but never heard them again. Now, why on earth would my brain imagine something once (while I was in a clean and sober state, I might add), but never again, even at times when I was EXPECTING to be able to hear them? Why would it initially hear them when I had no expectation they would make a sound? Why would my brain imagine one supposedly silent thing making sounds when it have never imagined sounds regarding anything else?

Maybe people should examine how ridiculous it is to think that numerous people can report hearing a particular phenomonen and yet all these people can be dismissed out of hand simply because science doesn't have an clear answer! Just because science can't yet explain or understand something, doesn't mean it isn't real. For years, and maybe still today, the bee is supposedly mathematically unable to fly. However, who here believes bees can't fly? No one, because we've all observed their flight. However, we can dismiss the idea the Northern lights can make sound based on the premise that science can't explain it. Since most people never seen the Northern Lights anyway, it is easy to dismiss the idea they make sound because they've never observed it.

Now, could it be the electomagnetic fields are causing auditory signals INSIDE people's heads? Well, that I could believe. All I know is a heard something I wasn't expecting to hear, was disbeleiving it for a little while. I listened to it for quite a while and realized it was quite real. I will also point out the Lights did have a different look that night. They were orangish in colour, not more whitish like they normally are, and much larger than I've ever seen (that is, taking up much more of the sky). Also, the sound I would describe would be that of distant "pops" though almost with a slight chiming quality to them. They sounded very far away. The sound also was somewhat in synch with the waves of light as they moved up the bands. As the wave reached the top and disappeared, the "popping" sound could be heard. Overall, it was quite a display. I've not seen them looks the same way before or since, nor have I heard the sound again.

I will remember that always, and perhaps remember this discussion as proof that science cannot always be trusted, and that perhaps anecdotal evidence shouldn't always be so easily dismissed. I remember another article on DI which pointed out that science once though rogue waves were extremely rare and one over 15 meters would only occur once every 10,000 years, and thus dismissing sailor's numerous reports of rogue waves over the centuries. Then they monitored a relatively small section of ocean and detected 10 monster waves in 3 years!
Here's that article. Perhaps after reading some might change their conclusion. Just because science hasn't monitored something yet, it doesn't mean it is a figment of imagination.

http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=701


Christopher S. Putnam
Posted 17 November 2007 at 02:32 pm

For years, and maybe still today, the bee is supposedly mathematically unable to fly. However, who here believes bees can't fly? No one, because we've all observed their flight.

That's an urban legend.

As for whether scientists can fly, I remain skeptical.


HiEv
Posted 17 November 2007 at 07:59 pm

martym said: "It seems so easy for those who aren't there to dismiss something as mere imaginiation just because science hasn't proven it."

I didn't "dismiss" it, I just said that imagination currently seems to be the most probable explanation to me, and that it is almost definitely the case in some instances. Please keep in mind that one explanation may not explain all cases.

martym said: "But I HAVE heard the Northern lights."

And other people say, "But I HAVE seen UFOs/aliens/demons/ghosts/el chupacabra/the Loch Ness Monster/etc..." In most (if not all) cases like those it's most likely they have simply imagined or misidentified what they saw or heard. You may think you know what you heard, but people see and hear things all the time that aren't what they thought they were.

martym said: "Why would it initially hear them when I had no expectation they would make a sound? Why would my brain imagine one supposedly silent thing making sounds when it have never imagined sounds regarding anything else?"

Perhaps simply because you were in a different location or mindset? Perhaps you were really hearing something else, like a nearby transformer? There are lots of possible explanations.

martym said: "Maybe people should examine how ridiculous it is to think that numerous people can report hearing a particular phenomonen and yet all these people can be dismissed out of hand simply because science doesn't have an clear answer!"

Then you've never heard of examples of mass hysteria? Like The Mad Gasser of Mattoon or Spring Heeled Jack? Many people have reported having their genitals stolen, shrinking, or "melting" due to people bumping into them or touching them. Should we believe this simply because so many people have claimed it happened to them? The fact is, just because lots of people believe something is true, doesn't mean it's true.

martym said: "Just because science can't yet explain or understand something, doesn't mean it isn't real."

Nobody claimed that was the case, but if a claimed effect can't be detected, then that's a good reason to doubt its existence.

martym said: "Since most people never seen the Northern Lights anyway, it is easy to dismiss the idea they make sound because they've never observed it."

That's not my reasoning. I gave my reasons earlier.

martym said: "I will remember that always, and perhaps remember this discussion as proof that science cannot always be trusted, and that perhaps anecdotal evidence shouldn't always be so easily dismissed."

Actually, if you accept anecdotal evidence then you could "prove" just about anything. I'm not saying it should always be dismissed, merely that it makes for poor evidence. If the only evidence you can find for some claim is anecdotal, despite it being studied scientifically, then the odds are you don't have a real phenomenon.

martym said: "I remember another article on DI which pointed out that science once though rogue waves were extremely rare and one over 15 meters would only occur once every 10,000 years, and thus dismissing sailor's numerous reports of rogue waves over the centuries. Then they monitored a relatively small section of ocean and detected 10 monster waves in 3 years!"

This is like a "they laughed at Einstein" argument, commonly used by crackpot scientists, which ignores the fact that many many other kooks were laughed at too. Yeah, some phenomena that were dismissed turn out to be real, but the vast majority of dismissed phenomena really are completely bogus, and usually forgotten.

Look, I'm not saying that it's impossible, I'm just saying that I haven't seen enough evidence for me to believe it's real yet.


orc_jr
Posted 17 November 2007 at 09:07 pm

Christopher S. Putnam said: "That's an urban legend.

As for whether scientists can fly, I remain skeptical."

I followed the link posted above and I am ashamed to say that I was stumped by the mathematical problem which was presented therein. Perhaps I could use a refresher course...


vonmeth
Posted 18 November 2007 at 02:20 am

Wonder if "The Sound of the Aurora" sound anything like the Symphonies Of The Planets of the NASA Voyager Recordings.


Falco Peregrinus
Posted 18 November 2007 at 03:34 am

Given that in order for the Aurora to be heard it has to be really quiet the sound could be in part tinnitus. Which I use to get fairly bad late at night when I was younger and have now from a fading ear infection. Also, I to can hear the high pitched TV whine thing, but I don't seem to notice it as often now as before.


orc_jr
Posted 18 November 2007 at 11:54 am

Oh goodness, I just realized what trouble I was having. I was attempting to find AD, not AC :P Guess it pays to read carefully.


jejune
Posted 18 November 2007 at 11:59 am

I was just reading about the electromagnetic Dawn Chorus, which is inaudible to the human ear but has been recorded.


knowsalot12
Posted 18 November 2007 at 01:07 pm

Kind of reminds me also of the flashes astronauts see with their eyes closed while in orbit. Literally while in space, if you close your eyes, you will see flashes of blue light.

Its due to one of two things, either direct interaction between receptor cells and cosmic radiation or Cerenkov radiation from particles passing through the jelly in your eye. The same process that makes nuclear reactors glow blue.


Bewildered
Posted 18 November 2007 at 03:42 pm

The saying 'all in their heads' is true, since perception is an act of the observers brain indicating to the observer that one of their senses has pick up something, regardless of whether or not the their senses are faulty, their brain has still registered it... But who wants a nit pickers opinion! (whilst i'm nit picking, the mythbusters are not a good source of definitive scientific information...)


ChrisW75
Posted 18 November 2007 at 04:41 pm

Bewildered - My thoughts exactly.
None of us can really know how someone else experiences the world. I can hear the hum from the power supply in our stereo in the kitchen from pretty much anywhere in the house. My girlfriend thinks I'm crazy because she can't hear it. I can also hear the faint hum from transformers in DC adaptors. That said, I have trouble listening to people talking if they aren't looking at me (which is why she thinks I'm crazy). The truth is, none of us knows what others see/feel/hear. We don't know how much pain another feels with certain stimuli, or if they find everything painful.
To say that the brain is a complicated organ is to seriously understate the truth. Electromagnetic induction could account for it, or a form of synesthesia where the brain sees something large moving and expects to hear a noise, there are all kinds of things that it could be, and different people could be experiencing it via different channels.
"It's all in your head" really isn't an answer at all, EVERYTHING is all in our heads, the love I feel for my girlfriend, the heat from the sun on my skin, the colour of the post-it notes on my screen, the feel of the keys under my fingers, all in my head. It doesn't make it any less real to me.


Old Man
Posted 18 November 2007 at 06:51 pm

Interesting stuff.

I always used to turn TVs off because of the whine. Now, at 27, I can't hear them any more.

But I can still hear my sister blinking from across the room. Every damn time! Click, click, click!


supercalafragalistic
Posted 18 November 2007 at 08:10 pm

Wow- such a fascinating subject matter on so many levels! And the comments are DI as well. I appreciate the skeptics' point of view because without a healthy dose of skepticism a lot of great ideas and problems like this would not get the in depth analysis they truly deserve. I also appreciate those who believe that which is your experience is not "all in your head." To speak to the latter I would appreciate an article someday about the current state of the medical profession and how everything is moving toward diagnostic testing and personalized medication. Anyhow, the article above is really a great one and I learned a lot of new words that I either hadn't heard in years, or hadn't heard of before : electrophonic transduction, demodulation, VLF radio waves. Thank you for stimulating my brain! :)


Samillionaire
Posted 19 November 2007 at 12:21 am

The closest ive gotten to seeing an aurora is a plasma ball... hey did u know u can burn ur finger with mini lightning sparks from a plasma ball?... if u got a reasonably powered plasma ball, put a coin on the top...let ur finger approach the coin, but not touch it...i have to get pretty close, but a mini lightning spark hits ur finger and if u do it enuff u can burn a layer off the tip of ur finger...

but on a more serious note, i really wanna travel to both poles and see both auroras...amazing...natures television


johannes
Posted 19 November 2007 at 05:19 am

I'm might as well do my bid to the discussion... I've lived in rural Finland almost my whole life and seen countless of auroras. But sadly never heard them. The first explanation for the sounds, that I thought of, was a very mundane one. Auroras are usually seen in clear winter nights, and when there are no clouds, temperatures almost invariably go down. And with that, pretty much everything around you, trees, ice, snow, contracts and begins to crackle. I believe the structure of snow also changes. Sometimes all that indeed sounds like "an animal rustling trough grass" or "crinkling of cellophane wrapper."

However, the sound is ambient, and does not appear to come directly from the auroras. Then again, if we hold the electrophonic transduction explanation, the sound would also be ambient, wouldn't it? We often look explanations directly from a phenomena itself, and overlook the context...

So is the sound of aurora's distinctly different from the sound of air and snow getting colder? My hearing is not the keenest, so I'm not prepared to discard those elaborate explanations either or blame it all on imagination.


Nicki the Heinous
Posted 19 November 2007 at 09:11 am

I haven't heard them myself, but I wish it was so. I know people who say they can hear them.

I grew up in Northern Alberta and the Northern Lights are magical in the winter. Where I was they were usually distinctly green, and always dancing. I would love to hear their music. They were a lively and welcome companion on long cold lonely walks in the country. One time I saw them so intense that they seemed to cover every foot of the dome of the sky, right to each horizon. They were purple and fiery orange and so bright that for a second of terror I thought the world was ending, because the sky was entirely aflame. I was struck speechless and weeping silently; I had never seen anything so insanely beautiful. Its been a couple years since I've seen them, and my heart aches for them just writing about it.

Oh, and DI :)


tampagirl
Posted 19 November 2007 at 09:56 am

Being a Tampa Girl, cold weather is VERY low on my list of fun things. But the Northern Lights might propel me to make an exception. They way everyone here and else where have written about the beauty... it makes it feel like they are something no one should miss.


TheChickenDuck
Posted 19 November 2007 at 10:06 am

martym said:
I will remember that always, and perhaps remember this discussion as proof that science cannot always be trusted, and that perhaps anecdotal evidence shouldn't always be so easily dismissed.

Well...I agree that people should not be so dismissive of this. But this statement is a misunderstanding of what "science" is. Science is not a body of knowledge or a textbook or a bunch of equations. In fact, it is a process for determining knowledge of the world we live in. It is a systematic way to analyze all the chaotic information that surrounds us in an attempt to explain and predict our environment. As part of that, when a new phenomenon like this is found, multiple theories are presented and tested against the evidence until overwhelming support appears for a certain explanation. Until such support emerges, the scientific process tells us to remain skeptical of all explanations in an attempt to weed out bad ones.

So, given that this "aural auroral effect" is very rare and difficult to measure, the fact that there are multiple explanations offered and attempts to justify or disprove them is merely the scientific process at work, not an indication that this process cannot be trusted.


noway
Posted 19 November 2007 at 12:07 pm

Alan,

When are you going to put a character limit on these comments? I think HiEv's post is longer than the original article (not that he's the only one)...


ggnutsc
Posted 19 November 2007 at 12:56 pm

DI!! No matter which theory one would subscribe to... Personally I have never been in a position to listen to the Aurora, but it sounds based on the article a lot like the sounds I used to hear occasionally on our smoke stack at work. We used to use an Electostatic Precipitator to remove the ash from our flue gas (smoke). An ESP uses high DC voltage to put a charge on the gasses as they pass throught the precip. The particulate then sticks to oppositely charge plates and is mechanically knocked off and collected below. Sometimes if the conditions were just right (usually cold and dry) I would hear the sounds the Richard describes near the exit area of the stack. I always thought that it was from the ionized gas exiting the stack into the atmosphere. Maybe a version of the "brush theory" described in the article. Having witnessed this on a stack I can't see why something similar couldn't occur in nature.

Good article!!!


MonkeyBones
Posted 19 November 2007 at 02:43 pm

Sometimes, when the conditions are just right, preferably dry and cold, some people can be seen shoveling snow. The scraping sound the shovel makes when it hits the ice reminds me a the chirp of a blue jay on drugs. Many thanks to the shovel master, who has once again earned the super gold first place medal for being the fastest shoveller in the whoooooole world! The world is at his feet! He is the shovel master. Auroras are nice. Thank God for your functioning senses. Without them you would be lasagna eaters.


supercalafragalistic
Posted 19 November 2007 at 09:13 pm

MonkeyBones said: "Sometimes, when the conditions are just right, preferably dry and cold, some people can be seen shoveling snow. The scraping sound the shovel makes when it hits the ice reminds me a the chirp of a blue jay on drugs. Many thanks to the shovel master, who has once again earned the super gold first place medal for being the fastest shoveller in the whoooooole world! The world is at his feet! He is the shovel master. Auroras are nice. Thank God for your functioning senses. Without them you would be lasagna eaters."

Wait a minute! I eat lasagna. In fact I am one fast lasagna shoveler. I'm ahead of Garfield the Cat, even. Blue jays do not take drugs, and what is this cold dry snow stuff you're referring to that people supposedly shovel? That last one's a real doozey. LMAO

Talk about some serious electric field effects!!! I think for many it may be the case where if you are hearing inexplicable things if it is the Aurora consider yourself lucky! MonkeyBones, friend and DI colleague, your post made me realize I could use some luck if you know what I mean. :)


Helwilli
Posted 20 November 2007 at 04:49 pm

Just because they can't be recorded or electronically detected, or that not all people have hear them does not mean they don't exist. Humans as a rule, have very poor senses compared to other animals. And yes, there is enough variability among humans' sensory abilities to explain that. Has anyone ever trained a dog in Florida to display upon hearing a produced similiar sound, and then took them to an aurora? An animal certainly won't have any expectations of sound with sight, and their detecting apparatus is much more sensitive than ours. A simple experiment like that will take it out of the psychobabble realm.


rev.felix
Posted 20 November 2007 at 09:02 pm

Jo.mansson said: "Couldn't it be the phenomenon that makes some people "hear" colours and "see" sounds?

It's called synesthesia. Since it is quite rare to hear the sound of an aurora, it might be that the few that does are actually experiencing synesthesia.

Here's a wiki article on the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia"

That would certainly explain smelling the aurora. I wonder if it smells like pie?

As for the whine when you turn on the tv, I think that's just a plain old high pitches whine. I can hear that, those scanning thingies that catch shoplifters, and a few other ultrasonic sounds (including, at times, plain old electricity coursing through the wires) due to a dodgeball to the face a few years ago. Unfortunately, I lost some sensitivity to lower pitches.


Tropicalman
Posted 21 November 2007 at 02:16 am

Aloha All!
I'm a new member (user?) here, so please be gentle with me. OK?
Although most things "science" has always been my strong suit, for some reason, I've always left a part of my thinking wide open to the "Anything is possible most of the time, however, most everything can be scientifically explained." theory.

I would love to believe that everything and anything can be proven scientifically. Until we reach the "end of the universe", finish exploring our own planet before we "kill" ourselves or figure out how our own brain works, I simply can't put that much "faith" into it. When I say "faith", I don't mean it in a religious way either. I mean completely TRUST it to give me the complete factual explanation for everything that "is".

In my lifetime so far, I've simply seen, heard, smelled, touched or tasted 'things' that either scientists have already written off as a type of "all in your head" or they simply refuse to listen to even a hypothesis from someone.

I currently live in Hawaii and have since 1989. Before this, I lived all over Minnesota where the "Northern Lights" are quite common in the winter and have had very similar experiences as "Nicki" above. I've also been walking along some country road late at night when it's been near 30 below (F) and literally been stopped in my tracks by the light show that "Mother Nature" was putting on for us fortunate few.

I'd love to try and describe my feelings and what I was seeing like Nicki did, but the description of what they looked like and the feelings felt were put best by Nicki. Even though, at the time, I knew full well what was causing them, the sheer brightness, magnitude and even knowing that there must have been one HECK of a solar flare to cause such a 'show' still put the feeling of terror in my heart for fear that our atmosphere would be ripped away by such a powerful force.

About all I can add is how I stood there, in the light of the Aurora on that totally quite, very cold country road, mouth agape and totally still, just wondering if it was possible that I was actually awake and seeing what I was seeing or perhaps it was all just a dream that seemed real. I remembered actually looking away and down at the ground and feeling the snow with my fingers to make sure I had the "feelings" of freezing which to me was proof that I wasn't dreaming. Then I'd stand up again and just stare and stare.

I would most certainly lose track of time because of "shows" such as those. It would be one thing if they didn't MOVE or constantly CHANGE COLORS and have a '3-D' effect to them. If that were the case, we'd get rather bored quickly. Every time I wanted to look away from them, I had to "force myself" or "tear myself away" from one of the only things that happen naturally and is so beautiful you almost always never want them to end.

You know, now that there is talk of them making a sound or sounds, I honestly cannot remember if I did hear anything as it's been too long since I've been far enough north to see them at all. I know that if I probably DID, I would have simply thought that that was the "way it was" and everyone heard them. So why should I bring it up if that's the case? I never even thought about it before because whenever I saw them with a friend or lover, we would both be so awestruck by them that only a few words would ever be said. Even then, those words would only be "oh, wow", "oh look over there!", "Did you see THAT?!?" and the like.

I urge anyone that has never seen them to make a point of experiencing them just once in your lifetime. You'll probably never forget it.


HiEv
Posted 21 November 2007 at 09:46 am

Tropicalman said: "I would love to believe that everything and anything can be proven scientifically."

Well, to be clear, while methodological naturalism, the basis of the scientific method, says that anything and everything that has an observable effect can be tested, that does not mean that anything and everything can be proven. Science is good for testing hypotheses and theories which explain facts, but when it comes to the specifics of past events, such as what you had for breakfast a year ago, some answers may forever be beyond the reach of science. There may simply no-longer be enough evidence to verify some claims. Simply put, science doesn't claim it can prove everything.

Furthermore, all hypotheses and theories in science, no matter how well founded, are provisional, and can be overturned by new evidence. Obviously some hypotheses and theories are more well founded than others, and thus would require extraordinary evidence to be overturned, but the point is that they are not proved. Things that are proved are called facts, but we need hypotheses and theories to explain those facts. We may never know exactly how the universe came into existence, for example, but that does not mean that we don't have some facts about that event, that we should stop trying to find the most probable explanation, or that a supernatural "explanation" is the only alternative.

Tropicalman said: "In my lifetime so far, I've simply seen, heard, smelled, touched or tasted 'things' that either scientists have already written off as a type of "all in your head" or they simply refuse to listen to even a hypothesis from someone."

And I've seen people jump to implausible conclusions, simply because they wrote off the possibility of mundane explanations without a thought. I've seen videos of supposed UFOs (meaning "alien spacecraft", not simply "unidentified") that were obviously (to me) out-of-focus blimps with scrolling text on the side, or light reflecting of off of glass, or distant police cars on the horizon at night, etc... The latest nonsense about a "ghost" at a gas station may have some people freaked out, but to me it just looks like a well-lit bug crawling on a camera lens. I've heard "science can't explain it" so many times where I could think of a half-dozen explanations off the top of my head, that I've grown somewhat weary of people who leap to the least plausible explanations. Maybe there really is something extraordinary out there that science has missed so far, but in my experience with these kinds of things I've only encountered people who very much appeared to be crying wolf. Perhaps they were earnest in their cries, but that doesn't make them any less mistaken.

This is why I am so cautious and conservative when it comes to my conclusions, and it has served me well.

(Apologies to those who are upset at my long-windedness. Brevity is not my strong suit since I hate imprecision.)


Tanagra
Posted 21 November 2007 at 11:42 am

While reading the article, & before I was finished, I too thought it was a visual noise, something the mind filled in, like phantom limb or something. After reading the rest of the article, most of the comments & reflecting on my own life's lessons, I heard the "click" of the light bulb that went off above my head. How often have we smelled or had seen a color in a memory or heard just what someone had said in your mind from years ago. Just because we were all taught about our limited physical senses as children should not limit our experiences in the world. Everyone has their "tricks" and the mind is truly amazing. I also think that our intellect and the "experts" we seek out, dull the instincts we were all born with including the senses we were not taught about. There are countless ways to experience the world and hearing the aurora is certainly one of them. Thanks Richard, for a great article and allowing me to exercise my mind. DI!

But, here's the kicker! Does this mean that explosions in space that you see & hear on the SiFi movies really have sound? Could you also feel the heat? How about screeching tires on a dirt road? :-)


Radiatidon
Posted 21 November 2007 at 12:28 pm

Sigh… the Aurora Borealis. Now there is something I wish I could have experienced. The closest that I have come was to see a sickly green haze since the sky was overcast. I really envy all you lucky ones who have seen this first hand.

As far as noise, on those nights that the Aurora Borealis was lighting up the haze (still very envious here), and the night was still (not much road or civilized noise in those frozen wastes) I don’t recall any unusual sounds. I do wear corrective lenses and there was not any buzzing coming from them. I wonder if that could be due to the haze, or maybe I’m not as perceptive as those who claim to experience it.

“What’s so spectacular? Here I made the effort to get here and no one will let me touch anything. So all I can do is listen, and you know what, it sounds empty!” Thus quoted the blind man at the Grand Canyon. Like him, I was there and with all the hardships to accomplish the trek, the glorious sight eluded me.

I have witnessed the Sunset Green Flash; it is very pretty, but not as cool as the Aurora since it is of short duration. I have heard that you can see the Green Flash at sunrise also, but have never seen it myself.

The Don, still green with envy…


Nicki the Heinous
Posted 21 November 2007 at 02:49 pm

I can't believe I have experienced something that Don hasn't. What an unlikely privelege. I have not witnessed or heard of the Sunset Green Flash, though.


Radiatidon
Posted 21 November 2007 at 03:20 pm

Nicki the Heinous said: "I can't believe I have experienced something that Don hasn't. What an unlikely privelege. I have not witnessed or heard of the Sunset Green Flash, though."

That’s right Nicki, just rub some more salt into the wound. How rude… :)

Follow this link for a description of the Green Flash from the Mount Wilson Observatory -- http://www.mtwilson.edu/vir/parkinglot/greenflash/

Then follow this link for some a great picture of such. I have taken the liberty of translating portions.

Photographed by Alfred Weiersmüller from the top of Bantiger Mountain, near Berne, Switzerland at 950m above Sea Level. The picture shows a Green Flash above a sea of clouds at around 800m. -- http://www.fotocommunity.de/pc/pc/mypics/475643/display/5118016

This link shows a nice series of a sunset resulting in what is called an inferior-mirage Green Flash -- http://www.fotocommunity.de/pc/pc/cat/4240/display/4961352

The Don


martym
Posted 21 November 2007 at 04:18 pm

I suppose what bugged me is that perhaps the most simplistic theory, that "it's just people's imagination", is accepted by so many here. Is that a scientific conclusion? Because science does not have a clear answer, the most likely answer is that it is just imagination?

Also, I'd like to point out this misidentifying something is the sky as a UFO is not, IMO, the same as supposedly completely imagining a sound. One requires you to see something that is there, and misinterpret it. Another requires you to completely imagine something not real, and not just for a fleeting moment but for an extended period of time, as watching the Northern lights isn't something that is over in a flash. Mishearing things, adding sounds that aren't there is something I can accept the brain might do for quick events where a noise is expected. However, to imagine a continuous sound, especially in cases where it was not expected (and the person is not suffering from anything), that to me is a theory with little if any evidence to support it. Could someone please point me to the scientific articles that show that many healthy, sane people experience sustained auditory hallucinations for singular specific events, sometimes several times for the same event (i.e. watching Northern lights)?

The article lists many alternative explanations, and as a person who's heard the Northern lights, I obviously figure it has to be one of those or some other unmentioned possibility, though I'd have no clue which to pick out first. it is interesting though that generally, some people here look at the equation as only two possibilities. That it is either people's imaginations, or it is something else from the myriad of other possibilities, and they refer the former. So for many, all the other scientific possibilities are dismissed entirely for the "it's in their head" theory right off the bat. I guess that's what bugged me. People who have never experienced it are so quick to take the most skeptical view and dismiss the possibility that there is something going on that science just doesn't grasp yet. However, did they apply any skepticism to the idea that many people from around the world could all imagine a similar, sustained auditory experience in relation to a repetitious event? Is there anything else anyone here can think of where many people imagine something making sound that doesn't? Do some people hear the sun burning, stars twinkling, slugs crawling? Is there something besides this that it is known people often attribute a sound to that doesn't produce sound? A continuous sound which would require more than a fleeting trick of the brain?

So perhaps I don't have an issue with the scientific method, just with the idea that merely being skeptical of something qualifies as the same as being scientific. I don't find the explantion "in their head" very compeling merely by pointing out people imagine things, without drawing a clearer parallel with this particular phenomonen.


Nicki the Heinous
Posted 22 November 2007 at 08:47 am

Radiatidon said: "That’s right Nicki, just rub some more salt into the wound. How rude… :)
"

I'm just joshin' ya :) The green flash photos are neat, may I ask where you saw the green flash?

*Braces herself for a fascinating tale*


Nicki the Heinous
Posted 22 November 2007 at 09:13 am

martym is right. Whenever I see the Northern Lights I anticipate hearing them, want to hear them, and never do. Wishful thinking and trying to imagine their sound never produced any sound for me.


cavebot
Posted 24 November 2007 at 11:25 pm

In Sept. of '89 myself and 6 others were in Northern Ontario on a fishing trip. One night, while playing cards in our cabin, we heard the Loons going crazy outside. We all got up and went outside. At first, our sight focus was low, towards the lake. One of the guys said "what's that swishing sound?" I heard it too, and said I don't know. By that time others who had moved into a clear area, were yelling about looking up in the sky. Bottom line...Many of us heard the noise BEFORE we saw the lights as the cabin was surrounded by trees. Y'all can think what you want. I know what I heard. And I'll never forget it. It was a very relaxing sound. Myself and another grabbed some lawn chairs, walked out into the clearing and watched (and listened) to the show for hours.
I took 35mm photos, but did not have any way to capture the sounds.


edraven
Posted 26 November 2007 at 08:50 am

I wonder if you can smell an aurora?


Nicki the Heinous
Posted 26 November 2007 at 11:35 am

edraven. . . . I never have. *shrugs*


Arnþór
Posted 28 November 2007 at 10:13 am

Kurosau said: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Mythbusters find that you couldn't receive radio signals with dental work? I'm not suggesting their experimentation was comprehensive, but I imagine their research was."

As always the mythbusters missed some things. They didn't try these "very low frequency radio waves" so that test would be inconclusive.


Card
Posted 28 November 2007 at 02:58 pm

though there are many anecdotal reports, the sound has yet to be recorded.

The cause is still unknown, but there are recordings. See
http://www.acoustics.hut.fi/projects/aurora/ASoundsNews.html

There's also a news report about the first successful recording, but it's in finnish.
http://www.verkkouutiset.fi/arkisto/Arkisto_2000/29.syyskuu/revo3900.htm

Quick and very dirty translation:
"Scientists have been studying the recordings made on
April 6th 2000 near Vihti for six months, and now we can say with
90% certainty that we have recorded the aurora sounds", says Jyrki
Manninen, who is a scientist at the Sodankylä geophysics observatory.

The sounds recorded by docent Unto K. Laine are a hiss which seems
to enhance the usual background tape noise. There were strong auroras
above southern Finland during the recording. A control recording made
later at the same place shows remarkably different sound levels.


wh44
Posted 29 November 2007 at 03:13 am

martym said: "Also, I'd like to point out this misidentifying something is the sky as a UFO is not, IMO, the same as supposedly completely imagining a sound."

I'd like to point out that this is an oxymoron: UFO = "Unidentified Flying Object", read: "misidentifying something ... as a unidentified ..." makes no sense. I have seen UFOs, but I would not have classified them as alien vehicles (what I take it you really meant). ;-)

What I saw was a series of slow moving flickering lights in the night sky. I'm not sure what it was, but my best guess is a series of helium or small hot air balloons, each with some small light source hanging from it (possibly a candle to "power" the hot air balloon?). There were about two dozen of the things slowly wafting through the night sky in a crooked line, looked to be about 200 meters up. Anybody have another guess what it could have been?


HiEv
Posted 02 December 2007 at 02:09 pm

Reading back through my old comments I see I wasn't clear on the point that my "it's all in their heads" description includes people's senses being fooled by seeing lights in the sky, hearing some unrelated local noise (power lines, melting snow, above ground-level winds, etc...), and then making the mistake of assuming that the lights were the source of the noise. In other words, the connection between the sound and the lights was only in their head, but they were actually unrelated phenomena. The question is, if you heard the noise without seeing the aurora, what would you have guessed it was? Maybe that guess is really the correct answer. Also, let me say again that I believe that this is true in some cases, and probably all, but I'm not saying I can't be wrong in some cases.

martym said: "I suppose what bugged me is that perhaps the most simplistic theory, that "it's just people's imagination", is accepted by so many here. Is that a scientific conclusion? Because science does not have a clear answer, the most likely answer is that it is just imagination?"

If a particular hypothesis best explains all of the facts, and is not contradicted by the facts, then yes, accepting that hypothesis is a reasonable scientific conclusion. However the reasoning is not "I don't know, therefore it's imagined," it's based on examinations of facts and testing of various hypotheses. A scientific hypothesis is supposed to be accepted or rejected based on whether it fits reality, not based on whether we like it.

martym said: "Mishearing things, adding sounds that aren't there is something I can accept the brain might do for quick events where a noise is expected. However, to imagine a continuous sound, especially in cases where it was not expected (and the person is not suffering from anything), that to me is a theory with little if any evidence to support it. Could someone please point me to the scientific articles that show that many healthy, sane people experience sustained auditory hallucinations for singular specific events, sometimes several times for the same event (i.e. watching Northern lights)?"

You might want to look into the McGurk effect. It's an audio/visual illusion where the brain is tricked into hearing something that was not said by showing a person speaking one sound, while playing the audio for another sound. Even when somebody is aware of this phenomenon, they still repeatedly hear a third sound that is only "in their head." It's not quite the same thing, but it does show one way the brain can be fooled by unexpected inputs.


Ludvik Kaaber
Posted 05 December 2007 at 05:31 pm

Interesting, to be sure. Most circumglobals at high latitudes know from own experience the somewhat peculiar feeling of standing under a clear aurora-lit sky at night. Stars are glowing; myriads of them, and the absolute stillness (I assume auroras are only heard when there is no wind), plus the crisp cold on the skin - maybe awe at one’s smallness and wonder at nature’s beauty - couldn’t this pave the way for a feeling or mood conducive to hearing the auroras? In other words, I am an adherent of the in-your-head hypothesis.

But - the dental fillings and braces AM-receivers make me damn interested. My dad’s brother, born 1909, once told me how, back in the thirties, he and others could occasionally, not always as I understood it, listen to the radio in or close to the opening of an open cast-iron coal stove. Further details are unknown to me, such as whether the stove was being fired (I assume it was not), or whether it was rectangular or barrel shaped (I say it should have been rectangular). An independent source, a friend of mine raised in Copenhagen, also told me exactly the same thing (but his evidence is hearsay). Both said simply that an open iron stove could function as a crystal receiver (with headphones connected, I venture to add). Is this possible? Can anybody confirm this or corroborate such strange stories?


vibration
Posted 16 December 2007 at 02:48 pm

I'm a long time reader of Damn Interesting.. Interesting stuff. I've personally experienced Auroral sounds, and I've worked at the Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory in Finland. I've assisted professor Unto Laine (and others), whose work Card referred earlier, in the auroral sound recording project. I'm also a sound artist and a musician.

What I observed was that the sound followed the auroral display instantaneously. The sound also lacked any ambient reverberation. I own a set of high end in-ear monitors, which sound very dry and precise. The auroral sound that I heard was dryer and more precise, and it ignited inside my head. It felt like a thousand different layers of noise would have delicately acted together. It lacked higher frequencies, and wasn't white noise. Sort of an off-channel radio noise, a bit mechanical, but definitely natural. A thousand off-channel sounds distinctively together. On top of that there were these softest pops and cracks I've ever heard. Not many of them, a few (the experience lasted 3-4 seconds), but less than the rate of lightning in a VLF recording. The sound field was deep, but not very wide. I Immediately created a simulation of my experience with my synthesizers, and I'm in the process of re-acquiring this (I didn't make a copy to myself). I can make it available when I get the copy.

The auroral display was exceptionally bright, and consisted of three bands in the beginning. At one point the belts fused together and the sound ignited. Immediately when the bands separated the sound ended. The appearance and disappearance of the sound followed the dynamism of the display to the detail, and had in the onset and the offset momentarily the same kind of curves.

My parents are from the Finnish Lapland, and in both families there are persons who have heard auroras. Finland is at the same latitudes as Alaska, so auroras are quite common when the solar activity is peaking.


vibration
Posted 16 December 2007 at 03:03 pm

A little more details for the interested: There were four people witnessing the display, and no one else heard anything. The display was directly on top of us. Two Finnish guys, one french and one english or german girl I think. I was the only sober one at that point :)


kittykactus
Posted 22 December 2007 at 04:15 pm

Wow, DI!
Shall keep in mind when I next see an aurora.
Maybe my glasses and expander will exacerbate my hearing.


Lonesome Bullet
Posted 01 January 2008 at 09:43 pm

I heard them when I was much younger. On some clear winter nights the Northern Lights are bright enough to cast shadows on the snow and we could hear them on some, but not all Auroral nights. It was a combination of hissing and the faint tickling of tiny bells, as I remember. This was on the prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada. As for the sight of a full blown display of the lights, there's been nights when we were driving somewhere, and stopped, got out of the car and watched them for half a hour. There's just something about a ban of light the width of your hand at arms length sweeping across 90 degrees of sky in a second. Fantastic.


lelelouise
Posted 15 January 2008 at 11:45 am

I was wondoring, what 3 good effects of gravity are there? at school we are studying science: gravity, friction, forces etc. please help me. Our techer makes us write one spelling 20 times if we get it wrong. I don't want to know what she could do if we gt a question wrong inn SCIENCE! Please help me!!!


lelelouise
Posted 15 January 2008 at 11:54 am

kittykactus said: "Wow, DI!

Shall keep in mind when I next see an aurora.

Maybe my glasses and expander will exacerbate my hearing."

u r so rite!


Anthropositor
Posted 14 March 2008 at 10:37 am

This is an interesting puzzle that relates to some other things I am familiar with. Early in the twentieth century, in the infancy of radio, there were numerous credible reports of people hearing radio broadcasts in their heads, without benefit of a receiver. One reasonable speculation, since this phenomenon was uncommon, is that it had to do perhaps with the unusual combinations or shapes of metal fillings in the teeth, resonating to the signals.

And sometimes the broadcasts were also heard in the proximity of barbed wire fences, lending at least some support for the idea about fillings. It may have had something to do with some of the extremely strong signals being broadcast during this very experimental period.

But perhaps, with regard to the auroral sound, some other things may be playing a part. Synesthesia is an unusual overlapping of the senses that is quite interesting, and sometimes disturbing when it happens to you. Sometimes it is interpreted as hallucination. It is not.

But the second possibility does relate to hallucination. We have a strong inclination to “fill in the blanks” when our senses do not supply us with enough input to provide us with the sort of satisfyingly complete picture we wish. If we deliberately put ourselves in positions limiting the input of our senses to the maximum extent possible, while still retaining alert consciousness, we will hallucinate in very short order. This is not an entirely foolproof practice.

If we observe an aurora, we are getting far less sensory input than most of us are used to. We may, without realizing it, be filling in the gaps, trying to make the picture more familiar and complex.


LAS
Posted 21 April 2008 at 05:12 pm

It's real. In the early spring of 2004, I was out for a late night jog in western Montana, near a small town but not in it. The only sounds were me and my feet. At some point I looked up and noticed moving stringy green curtains of a remarkably strong aurora borealis. Before that point, I had only managed to see faint glowing of red and blue in the winter, but nothing like this. Some time later, probably within 15 minutes, I stopped jogging and walked for a while, trying to figure out the origin of a very low pitch, very rhythmic thrumming every couple of seconds. I looked up again to the north sky and although the curtains were gone, the sky was glowing strongly, more towards the farthest north than directly overhead. There were east-west bands of green moving from the north to directly overhead before disappearing, exactly in time to the thrumming. In fact, there was no delay from the beginning of a new band beginning to run and the beginning of the sound. I watched it for maybe 15 or 20 minutes like that, until I could no longer hear the sound, and the northern sky faded to a very faint glow. I made it to my dad's house and woke him up to see- not an easy thing to do. There were still very faint traveling bands of glow still, and he did see them. I was completely skeptical of what I had thought I had heard until reading an article perhaps a few months later.

To me, they were as real as anything, and I did notice these sounds before actually noticing the bands of light or any other subconscious clue that might have contributed to a perception issue. I think what I perceived was as real as rain, but what caused it is anyone's guess- either real sound or some sort of direct stimulation. In seeing dozens of northern light episodes since then, I have not heard this phenomena again despite trying.


dmitri k
Posted 03 January 2014 at 08:55 am

i collected from cia materials books where they printed about auro
border inside where magnetic field that blocks from inside
they sure want to deliver outside sounds
who is they we should reserve trips


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