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Did You Hear the Northern Lights?

Mark Thiessen, NGM staff

Next time you are lucky enough to witness an aurora borealis, you may want to also listen carefully for some faint applause. According to a new study announced this week, colorful displays of northern lights may actually produce audible clapping sounds. Finnish researcher Unto K. Laine from Aalto University has been studying the phenomenon for over a decade and believes that he has captured a distinct sound associated with intense episodes of northern lights.

Auroras occur when charged particles are thrown off the Sun as solar wind, then travel across interplanetary space, eventually interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field. This sets off the colorful displays.

There have been stories about an eerie noise associated with auroras for over a century at least, centered around the Arctic region where displays are more frequent and powerful. Most of these stories, however, have been considered just folklore and hearsay.

Many describe what they heard as being comparable to that of a radio left on a station that has gone off the air. Sort of a faint crackling or a hissing sound.

“In history there are thousands of relevant observations, but recordings also exist that consists of many different type sounds described by observers around the world such as crackling, clapping, popping, booms and low frequency noise,” says Laine.

In the new study, researchers set up three separate sites with highly sensitive microphones at the focus of parabolic dish antennae and recorded faint but distinct noises during some but not all intense geomagnetic activity.

“We found statistically significant correlations between sound pressure levels and geomagnetic activity in many different frequency bands,” says Laine.

 

 

There are a lots of ideas out there on what may be causing the sounds, with one theory saying that the culprit may be tree needles or pine cones—where there is a potential for an electrical gradient and a subsequent discharge.

The most popular hypothesis by far is the brush discharge mechanism in the atmosphere, says Laine, where geomagnetic storms may generate large charges in the atmosphere and these can suddenly get discharged with a clap sound.

He adds that while the scientific community has been left stumped as to how these noises could be produced, most sounds when they occur can be heard for a few minutes during a powerful display.

 

– The new study will be published in the proceedings of the 19th International Congress on Sound and Vibration.

 

 

Comments

  1. […] The best time to try and capture pictures of auroras, in general, is between midnight and the pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows that start near the horizon. In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod-mounted DSLR camera with a wide-angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related: “Did You Hear the Northern Lights?”) […]

  2. [...] Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?). [...]

  3. Beautiful Wallpaper
    April 16, 2013, 12:34 am

    this http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com site is so beautiful.this site depend on northern lights.ext time you are lucky enough to witness an aurora borealis, you may want to also listen carefully for some faint applause. According to a new study announced this week, colorful displays of northern lights.

  4. Carol Santos
    Providence, Rhode Island USA
    April 15, 2013, 1:09 pm

    Not a scientist, but it makes sense that if a rainstorm is accompanied by thunder, that a solar storm would also be accompanied by some sort of noise.

  5. Carol Santos
    Providence, Rhode Island USA
    April 15, 2013, 1:06 pm

    Not a scientist, but it makes sense that if we have thunder during a rain storm, that a solar storm would be accompanied by some sort of noise (or “thunder”.)

  6. Steve
    Portage la P. MB
    April 12, 2013, 6:51 pm

    I have seen some very amazing displays, but have only heard them once in my life. In the early 1980’s, a group of us were winter camping on Snowshoe Lake, near Nopoming Park in Southeastern Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario. It was near the end of Feb, temperature was around -20(C), approximately 1000 P.M. and I decided to take one of the snowmobiles out to the middle of the lake to watch the light show. As I lay on the ice watching the bands of pulsing colours radiating overhead from the Northern horizon I noticed a sound similar to the hissing of a TV station that was off the air (pre-HDTV!), and the volume seemed to increase the more overhead the bands of light approached. The sound had to have been coming from the bands themselves as I was thousands of yards from the shoreline, laying on over 4 feet of frozen water-unforgettable!!

  7. [...] Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?). [...]

  8. [...] Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?). [...]

  9. [...] Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?). [...]

  10. [...] Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?). [...]

  11. [...] Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?). [...]

  12. [...] Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?). [...]

  13. [...] Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?). [...]

  14. [...] Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?). [...]

  15. [...] Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?). [...]

  16. [...] source [...]

  17. Erin
    Saskatoon, SK
    February 17, 2013, 12:04 am

    My Mom told me from the time I was little about seeing intense northern lights and being able to hear them. She said they sounded like static and were somewhat bell-like. She went most of her life wondering if it might have been her imagination until watching a documentary on the subject a few years ago. If you think about it though, why would they NOT make a sound? Sound itself travels in waves, light travels in waves, and many other things in nature follow repeated patterns that exist in more than one part of the sense-spectrum. A static spark makes a sound but only really when it comes in contact with something… I think it’s fascinating!

  18. Susan Filene
    CambridgeMA and US Virgin Islands
    January 23, 2013, 7:47 pm

    I could hear the Northern Lights when I was a child living in NH. No one believed me. I am now 70 years old.

  19. drgnida
    jersey city, NJ
    January 22, 2013, 12:47 am

    Over here in NJ there have been some very interesting sounds from the nights sky. I try to record them but the only camera I usually have is my phone and the recordings suck.

  20. Sbn
    December 24, 2012, 6:58 am

    Subhan Allah

  21. Helen Baker
    Tunbridge
    December 7, 2012, 7:54 am

    i love this picture xx

  22. dreamyremy
    cairo
    November 21, 2012, 6:19 pm

    hope more and more success

  23. [...] Did You Hear the Northern Lights?. Rate this:Share this:EmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  24. Here
    August 23, 2012, 7:43 am

    Dear webmaster, thank you for writing that article on Northernlights. I had a good time while reading this. I wish you all the best, Chris Eric!

  25. Libelula
    Venezuela
    July 16, 2012, 2:21 pm

    Hello!! Yesss!!! this phenomenon is very interesting and incredible!!! is that true that lot of people in alaska rent tehir homes for turist, near the zones qhere the aurora can be seen perfectly?? is that very expensive??? plz, somebody ask!! :D I’d love to see this phenomenon with my own eyes!!!!

  26. sana
    karachi,,,pakistan
    July 15, 2012, 3:07 pm

    wow

  27. Cindy
    Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
    July 15, 2012, 1:15 pm

    The couple of times I’ve heard the Auroras, they sounded more like delicate hissing chimes. Both times I was near large bodies of open water: at Whiteshell Provincial Park on the Big Whiteshell in May, and at Patricia Beach on Lake Winnipeg in summer.

  28. Sherylee
    Victoria, BC, Canada
    July 15, 2012, 1:01 pm

    I have heard them when on Keenan’s farm, Ord Hill, east of Williams Lake. For me laying in my skidoo suit out on the snow in the wee hours watching and listening, I would hear a crackle or high pitched whine as the Spirits danced across the sky in their pastel rainbow veils of light.

  29. Julia
    Atlanta, GA
    July 15, 2012, 1:00 pm

    I don’t think that sounds like a clap but like a wire pulled tightly that snaps and then echoes … maybe like a spring breaking

  30. Krishna kumar G
    Cuddalore,India
    July 15, 2012, 12:36 pm

    It may be like Thunder sound when raining.

  31. [...] Did You Hear the Northern Lights? (newswatch.nationalgeographic.com) Rate this:Share this:ShareTwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  32. Max Hahto
    Vancouver Island
    July 13, 2012, 8:04 pm

    Wait for it… the sound of music!

  33. [...] Read more about this novel research on noisy auroras and hear an actual clip of these eerie sounds i… Bookmark Tags: aurora sounds, Auroras, northern lightsPosted in Auroras, Solar System | No Comments » [...]

  34. Eric
    Bering Sea
    July 12, 2012, 1:19 pm

    I’ve heard in in Wisconsin but nothing like when I was an Observer aboard a factory trawler in the Bering Sea while working for NOAA/NMFS. I remember the sound not as much as a ‘clap’ but more like a synthesized ‘whoosh & shoo’! Really incredible. My tour was from December – March, 1990-91.

  35. Notanee Bourassa
    Regina SK
    July 12, 2012, 11:12 am

    Hearing it. Yes we hear it too, no trees around either. I think its causing surface that are electromagnetically senstitive to hum. But last winter at kp6-7 I swore it was coming from the ground, there was just so much sound could not zero it in to a point, it was the entire area. Maybe iron ore under the surface?