by Sharon Hill
Our post on the Costa Rica (and subsequent) mystery sky noises has generated lots of hits to the site.
The story evolved from a video taken last August in Kiev, Ukraine. Mechanical-type noises were heard in an urban area. The video is distinct in that the noise is clearly heard in addition to the normal neighborhood noises in the background. Faking does not seem likely.
The noise, which is really unusual, has not been adequately pinned down and has struck a chord on the Internet. Copycat videos (some exactly the same), followed on You Tube and speculation abounded regarding their source. Typically, the causes leaned towards the apocalyptic. It IS 2012 after all. Perhaps the heavens are signaling End Times. Fantastic suggestions include the shifting magnetic poles, HAARP, the trumpets of angels, you get the idea. Also surfacing is the idea that they all occurred around the world at the same time – not a valid assumption just because they all showed up on YouTube at the same time.
Other more reasonable but questionable suggestions have been secret underground construction and good old viral marketing – a nifty suggestion considering that this does happen quite a bit. Many have likened the sounds to mechanistic alien attacks and at least one person did do a deliberate hoax to show how easy it can be using the War of the World’s death ray sound (this has since been removed).
As the keeper of the blog “Strange sounds from the sky” noted, he is seeing new uploads every day(1). This phenomenon is NOT happening every day. Instead, we can rightly conclude that this is a social mass frenzy for attention on a hot topic.
Despise the obvious hoaxes, people don’t seem to be critical. Public and conspiratorial-minded interest is growing. So, I decided to consult some definitive sources on the subject of anomalous sky noises and see if these sorts of phenomena or anything resembling them had previously been observed.
This is a Fortean topic: where reports are few, treated as anomalies, and can not always be well explained by established knowledge in science at the moment. Surprisingly, unusual and unexpected sky noises/unidentified sounds in nature are referenced in the scientific literature. I’ve been interested in anomalous natural phenomena for a very long time and have a collection of resources at hand. I reached for my compendium on the subject – William R. Corliss’ Earthquakes, Tides, Unidentified Sounds and Other Related Phenomena, a Sourcebook Project catalog (1983).
In this treasure of referenced reports, I may have found a lead that clues us in on the recent sky noise phenomena. But first, a bit about well-known sky noises.
The phenomena best known, but still rather uncertainly explained, is that of mystery booms. Corliss notes that there are SO many reports of unexplained sounds of this nature that their reality is not doubted. A review of a particular type of account of the phenomena, called brontides, has been published in the journal Science. (Gold and Soter. 1979. Brontides: Natural Explosive Noises. Science 204:4391. pp. 371-375.)
Brontides are observed with some regularity at certain places on earth. Frequently, they can be linked to seismic events that are too small to feel, perhaps even too small to be noticed or measured (in consideration of today’s background vibrations from urban activity). Ground-to-air acoustic transmission from shallow earthquakes is a possibility for many of the booming events. It seems likely that seismic activity is not the sole cause around the world, however.
The Barisal Guns are known from the Ganges delta area in India. They sound like cannon fire. Reports exist from the 1870s when explosives and cannons were nowhere around and firearms were scarce. The booming sound is sometimes single but can be triplets. Barisol guns events were associated with rain. Potential explanations for these and other brontides included far off surf breaking, landslides on the river banks in the delta, detonation of underwater gas, explosives, military testing, mass animal sounds (some aquatic creatures make a huge racket en masse), volcanic or seismic activity, and – a particularly curious idea – the sound of compacting sediment from the delta which can actually contribute to small earthquakes.
Unique occasion of similar booming noises have been reported all along the Eastern North America coast, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Some particular areas around water have their own versions of these “water guns”. Here are some examples:
- Seneca guns in New York at Seneca Lake
- “Mistpouffers” from the coasts of northern Europe to Iceland, particularly Belgium and France. Their tendency to occur on warm, calm foggy days, has earned them the translation of “fog dissipators”. A keeper of a lighthouse reported them with regularity. Their noise was said not to resemble artillery or thunder.
- Uminari in Japan (July, 1915. Monthly Weather Review. 315) is described to be the sound of waves breaking off shore. The lines of waves can produce a cannonading sound audible some ways inland.
- “Lake Roar” from several Alpine lakes possibly related to the karst caverns.
Land guns are also reported. As mentioned, these are sometimes correlated with tiny earthquakes, sometimes not. Examples of these land booms:
- Moodus Noises of Connecticut (generally agreed to be seismic-related)
- “Brontidi” on the Italian peninsula
- Hanley’s guns in Victoria, Australia
- Booms reported by Bedouins in the Egyptian desert
- “Gouffre” reported in Haiti (a seismically active area).
In today’s society, it difficult to distinguish natural sounds from man made ones. We regularly experience sonic booms, blasting, military artillery testing, fireworks, rifle reports, and sound from heavy industrial machinery. One-time events may be seismic related, even in areas not considered to be earthquake-prone, but we can’t discount a rare atmospheric electrical phenomena (from clear sky, sometimes with a flash) or unseen meteor explosions in the atmosphere.
Occasions, more musical tones are reported to waft through the sky. The best known of these is the Yellowstone whispers.
Early explorers to the Shoshone Lake area remarked upon the sounds described in various ways – humming bees, whirring, moans, voices or a harp. The sound can get louder, fade, or may pass or wander across the sky. An observer remarked the indeterminate sound was “weird and startling… unlike anything I had ever heard before”(Corliss, p. 177). Yellowstone is an active volcanic/seismic area with natural features, such as gas discharges, that may contribute to unusual environmental conditions.
Wind can convert “properly configured rocks, plants and manmade structures into wind instruments” (Corliss, p. 183). Such natural melody-producing situations appear to be rare but several permanent features are documented.
The Black Forest in Germany and other European wooded areas produce harmonies. Rocky cliffs called “the Snorers” and a place on Mt. Maladetta (“matins of the damned”) in the Spanish Pyrenees act like organ pipes in air currents.
I found the following report to be rather humorous, being able to imagine this poor fellow’s confusion:
[1932, Angmering-on-sea, England] “The melody included runs, slow trills, turns and grace notes, and sounded so artificial that I felt bound to open the window and make sure that the tune was not being played by a human performer.”
The tune was found to be the wind blowing across the exposed pipe from the bath.
Corliss lists three incidents from the 1800’s of organ or horn-like sounds reportedly emanating from underground. These are rare and the cause is unknown.
Modern anomalous sounds
So, we can conclude from the many and various examples that natural but odd sky noises do happen. They may even be somewhat common. Observers perceive them as weird, unexpected, and unnerving, especially when sounding eerily like voices or music. Those of a particular belief system can easily assume that it must be a supernatural sound or portent. I’m not surprised that this has been a popular interpretation, considering all the talk of the world ending soon.
One type of report I did not find in the catalog was that of mechanized sounds in the sky as shown in some of the recent videos, particularly the Kiev audio (which has been copied repeatedly and dubbed over video from other locations). They sound too industrial to be natural. What could be an explanation?
Corliss’ catalog provided an intriguing clue. I preface this by saying I know little of acoustics but the premise seems plausible: musical echoes.
The catalog of anomalies contains a section on musical echoes noting many good observations exist. Normal sounds can be reflected as musical notes or in different pitches than the original sound. Depending upon the reflectors, sound can seemingly come from all directions. The reflectors tend to return high frequency tones including harmonics and can pulsate due to the topography of the reflector. Mountainous areas or woods can produce echoes, normal or distorted. Building can do the same. Even the vinyl siding so prevalent in American suburbia housing construction produces echoes in the neighborhood that confuse the observer. Perhaps even our bridges and tunnels can funnel the wind, distort sound, and create unusual tones.
Ignoring the fakes and assuming that some genuine sounds were heard, I suspect, in the age of bustling urban environments, we could be hearing the anomalous echo of a normal sound, changed and distorted by the city landscape. If the Kiev sound is real, could it have been produced by wind interacting with the artificial topography? Or, could it have been a warped echo of industrial sound from a distance? This would be anomalous. Conditions may be just right to make the event non-reproducible under controlled circumstances. We may not be able to determine the answer.
Even so, this explanation is more plausible than the idea that End Times are upon us and that the angels are heralding our imminent destruction. It will take far more than some uploaded video to convince me of that explanation.
1. I do not recommend going to this site, it is full of people who don’t really want to be reasonable about this.
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