The world is a wonderful yet sometimes mysterious place. From the deep ocean to the vast expanses of outer space – there’s still a lot to discover or something mysterious to stumble upon. Mysteries are highly intriguing for many reasons, but when it comes to sounds, we feel the need to know what it is and where it’s coming from.
We humans have a knack for recognizing sounds. Our ears have the sensitivity to discern variations in sound equivalent to less than one-billionth of atmospheric pressure. Our brains also have the ability to recognize and remember intricate auditory patterns. This skill likely evolved because our ancient ancestors had a better chance of survival if they could distinguish between, say, for example, the whistle of the wind and the hiss of a saber-tooth cat about to pounce.
But this innate ability to recognize and categorize sounds also contributes to the unease we feel when we can’t identify a sound. It doesn’t help that mysterious sounds have long been linked to paranormal phenomena, like poltergeists, adding to our anxiety. Some sounds remain an enigma, confounding scientists and researchers for years. Join us as we delve into mysterious sounds that have no conclusive source or explanation yet.
Just a few months before Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in 1977, actual scientists stumbled upon what they initially thought could be a radio message from extraterrestrials from far away.
At Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope observatory (which is no longer in operation), a dedicated volunteer named Jerry Ehman made a noteworthy discovery. While scanning for signals, he came across one that was exceptionally potent—30 times louder than the usual background noise of deep space. It was positioned remarkably close to 1,420 megahertz, the frequency associated with hydrogen (indicated by the “U” on the telescope’s electromagnetic frequency printout that Ehman checked daily). The catch? The signal only lasted for 72 seconds, and despite over 100 subsequent studies of the same patch of sky, nothing out of the ordinary was found.
Ehman discovered the anomaly a few days later after getting the signal. While reviewing the recorded data, he was so impressed with the result that he circled the reading of the intensity on the computer printout and wrote “Wow!” beside it. That’s how the signal got its name.
The same signal has not been detected since, despite several attempts later on. So what was it? There were many attempts to explain its origin, including man-made and natural sources, but none of them checks out. It remains the strongest candidate for extraterrestrial radio transmission that was ever detected. But decades later, the mystery remains unsolved.
Our oceans create a symphony of peculiar sounds from a wide variety of sources – from volcanic tremors and passing ships to the melodic calls of marine mammals like humpback whales. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been delving into these aquatic acoustics for years, using a network of hydrophones submerged underwater. These hydrophones produce voltage signals across various frequencies as they capture sounds from all directions below the surface.
One particular unexplained phenomenon among these oceanic sounds is the Upsweep, a series of narrow-band upward-sweeping sounds. Scientists first detected this mysterious phenomenon in 1991 when the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory began recording SOSUS, a global underwater sound surveillance system.
Upsweep appears to follow a seasonal pattern, typically peaking in the spring and fall, though the reason for this is still unknown. The sound, with a high enough volume to be recorded across the entire Pacific, remains a puzzle in terms of its source and purpose. The prevailing theory suggests a potential connection to volcanic activity.
During the summer of 2013, a woman in British Columbia heard a peculiar, loud, and trumpet-like sound. She recorded it one morning using her video camera and shared it on YouTube. Many were skeptical about its authenticity, but similar reports of such sounds have surfaced from places as diverse as Texas to Norway.
These mysterious noises come in various forms; at times, they resemble an animal moan, while in other instances, they sound like a low-pitched rumble, a whine, or a distinct thumping. The source of these sounds remains elusive.
Jean Pierre St. Maurice, a physics professor at the University of Saskatchewan, has hypothesized that the noises could be related to electromagnetic waves emitted by auroras (the natural light displays commonly observed in the skies of the Arctic and Antarctic regions). However, no one has definitively identified their source.
UVB-76, also known as ‘The Buzzer,’ is a radio mystery. Starting in the early 1980s, a mysterious radio tower located north of Moscow transmitted a series of odd beeps. By 1992, it switched to buzzing sounds, lasting approximately one second each and occurring between 21 and 34 times per minute.
Once every few weeks, this routine will be interrupted by a male voice reciting brief strings of numbers and words, often including Russian names like Anna and Nikolai. The buzzing tones shifted in amplitude, pitch, and intervals. However, without fail, every hour, on the dot, the station would abruptly buzz twice.
Adding to the peculiarity, the station briefly experienced unexpected breaks in its routine. In June and August of 2010, it temporarily ceased signal transmissions. Then, in a startling turn at the end of August, listeners would hear thuds and shuffling sounds creeping into the broadcasts, which are frequently interrupted by snippets of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” There were also occasional cryptic messages like “04 979 D-R-E-N-D-O-U-T” followed by extensive string numbers of heard during the broadcast.
The source and purpose of the messages has never been determined. Speculation among shortwave enthusiasts leans towards the idea that the station is communicating messages to secret agents.
The Taos Hum
A bizarre ambient hum can be heard in many places of the world, but Taos, New Mexico, is the most famous spot for the mysterious droning. It’s so notable that it’s mentioned in travel guidebooks about the place. Referred to as the Taos Hum, this mysterious drone is not exclusive to Taos but is perhaps most famously associated with the region.
Approximately 2 percent of the local population claims to hear the hum, describing it as akin to the low rumble of a diesel truck’s engine. Those who notice the sound experience varying levels of discomfort. Some find it mildly irritating, while others report more significant effects such as sleep disturbances, dizziness, and even nosebleeds. Enter conspiracy theories – suggesting that it may be linked to secret military communication systems contacting submarines or covert weapons testing programs.
However, scientists propose alternative explanations. Some believe the hum may be caused by low-frequency waves originating in the atmosphere or vibrations from deep within the Earth. Another hypothesis suggests that certain individuals are exceptionally sensitive to specific electromagnetic frequencies, potentially linking the hum to devices like cell phones. Despite these ideas, the true cause of the Taos Hum remains uncertain, leaving scientists without a definitive answer.
The Bloop was a big mystery when it comes to unexplained sounds. In 1997 – a big year for ocean sound mysteries – an extremely powerful, ultra-low-frequency sound reverberated across listening stations thousands of miles apart. Its origin was traced to the Pacific Ocean somewhere west of the southern tip of South America.
The Bloop, which lasted about a minute, was heard repeatedly over the summer but has remained silent since. At the time, scientists leaned toward the explanation of a massive icequake, but the possibility that the sound came from something “organic” hasn’t been entirely ruled out.
If an animal was responsible for the Bloop, it would have to be larger than a blue whale. One fanciful theory connects the Bloop’s location to H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional sunken city of R’lyeh, home to the slumbering creature Cthulhu—part man, dragon, and octopus. As fantastical as it sounds, it’s thrown into the mix of potential origins for the ocean’s biggest auditory anomaly.
Years after the Bloop was heard, advancements in science have shed light on this mysterious noise. Initially categorized as “unknown” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), recent discoveries point to the Bloop likely being caused by the cracking and fracturing of massive icebergs, resulting in icequakes. Noticeably louder than anything an animal could produce, it was eventually determined that The Bloop was the sound of massive icebergs splitting near the Antarctic Circle.
Recorded on several occasions since the 1970s, the Hum is a strange, low-frequency humming noise that can only be heard by around two percent of the world’s population.
There are documented cases in Canada, England, New Mexico, Scotland, and New Zealand. Those who can hear it said they had not always heard it, nor did they have a history of hearing unexplained noises. The Hum is generally heard indoors, and it intensifies during the night. This sound is more prevalent in rural and suburban areas, and it tends to impact people between the ages of 55 and 70.
Scientists have delved into the cause of this droning sound, occasionally linking it to industrial equipment emitting specific frequencies. However, the mystery still persists, leaving the world puzzled. The list of potential culprits spans wide—from wireless communication devices, power or gas lines, electromagnetic radiation, and radio waves to Earth tremors. The Hum’s appearance and disappearance, along with its varied causes, continue to confound scientists. What’s clear at this point is that The Hum is a natural and likely byproduct of 21st-century living.
Seneca Lake in New York looks pretty peaceful, but it’s home to some inexplicable booms. Some were powerful enough to vibrate buildings or rattle windows, but the source is unknown.
Back in 1850, loud, explosive sounds were heard in the woods around Seneca Lake in New York. James Fenimore Cooper wrote a short story entitled “The Lake Gun,” which describes people’s experiences in hearing a loud sound that resembles the explosion of a heavy piece of artillery around the area.
Since Cooper’s time, people have been startled by the same sound, but when they got over their shock, they could not find the source. Nothing appears to have been blown up or crashed, and no supersonic aircraft have been flying around.
In 2012, similar sounds were heard in Alabama, Georgia, and Wisconsin – people felt shaking and heard loud booms. Scientists think these booms might be linked to small earthquakes, too minor to make it to the records but big enough for locals to feel. Another possibility is sonic booms from planes zipping faster than the speed of sound. However, the true cause remains a bit of a mystery.
Scientists are now using seismic data to pinpoint the cause and origin of the explosions, but they haven’t entirely solved the mystery yet.
For the past approximately 200 years, a mysterious sonic boom known as Skyquakes has been echoing around the world, particularly near bodies of water. These puzzling occurrences have been reported in diverse locations such as the Ganges in India, the US East Coast, the inland Finger Lakes, the North Sea, Australia, Japan, and Italy.
The sound, which has been described as similar to massive thunder or cannon fire, has sparked up different origin theories. They have been linked to everything from meteors entering the atmosphere to gas escaping from vents in the Earth’s surface (or exploding after being trapped underwater due to biological decay) to earthquakes, military aircraft, collapsing underwater caves, and even suggested as a potential byproduct of solar and/or Earth-based magnetic activity. The mystery surrounding Skyquakes continues to intrigue, and no satisfactory theory exists to explain all the reported noises.
The 52-Hertz Whale
In 1989, an American military network stumbled upon a very odd noise. They were originally on the hunt for nuclear submarines, so when they inspected the sound, they identified it as a call of a blue whale.
Despite being familiar – allowing them to identify it – the whale’s main singing notes stood out for being uniquely high-pitched, registering at 52 hertz. While this might sound like a low bass note to us, it’s noteworthy because most blue whales communicate between 10 and 40 hertz. The speculation arose that this “Sad Moby” had difficulty connecting with other whales due to the frequency mismatch.
Scientists kept a watchful eye on the whale over the years, and interestingly, they later discovered that its voice had dropped to around 47 hertz. The prevailing belief is that whales have distinct “dialects,” and Sad Moby managed to make friends with blue whales who spoke a language close to his own, adapting over time.
For years, Windsor, Ontario, dealt with a mysterious humming noise known as “the Hum” that was first reported in 2011. This wasn’t just any noise; it would sometimes amplify, causing irritation and affecting people’s ability to concentrate. People got worried about the well-being of children, pets, and mental health, with some reporting their windows shaking from the vibrations.
One night in 2012, residents made about 22,000 calls to the Town Hall, complaining about the strange, motor-like sound that pestered them. This alerted the feds to send a group of researchers to study the sound and identify its source.
The researchers suspected that the source was Zug Island, an industrial island near Detroit, close to the US-Canada border, but they were unable to know for sure.
Years later, during the summer of 2020, the bizarre noise suddenly stopped. As it turns out, a US Steel factor on Zug Island scaled back on their operations and shut down their blast furnaces. Just like that, the pesky Windsor Hum was gone. But the phenomenon still remained a mystery because of the secrecy of US Steel officials and because no one in Windsor heard the sound until 2011, though the steel plant was functional before them.
Jupiter’s Bow Shock
You probably already know that Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. But here’s a fun fact you may not know: this huge planet gives off a rather peculiar sound.
When NASA’s Juno spacecraft journeyed to Jupiter in 2016 at a speedy 150,000 miles per hour, it spent two hours passing through Jupiter’s intense magnetic field. At that time, the spacecraft’s instruments caught a unique noise: a roaring and screeching sound.
This sound is produced by a “bow shock”—a cosmic storm created when Jupiter’s magnetic fields collide with high-speed solar winds from the sun. Why exactly does it happen, and how is the sound created? Scientists don’t know for sure.
Rumblings in the Stratosphere
Most recently, in 2023, scientists detected low-frequency sounds in the stratosphere from an unknown source. These strange, eerie, rumbling sounds have not been heard anywhere else. The stratosphere is the second layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, which is a relatively calm place rarely disturbed by planes or turbulence, so sounds that are typically undetectable anywhere can often be detected in the stratosphere.
Researchers in New Mexico detected the mysterious sound by using hot air balloons sent to the stratosphere, and they found out that the eerie noise repeated a few times per hour. It’s inaudible to the human ear because it is in the infrasound range, but the source is completely unknown. Further observations are needed to identify the origin of the sound.
The enigma of unexplained sounds captures our imagination and challenges our understanding of the auditory world. Can Sound Art Change the Way We Experience Music? explores the innovative realm of sound art, demonstrating how these avant-garde expressions can transform our traditional music experiences, much like how mysterious sounds intrigue and perplex us.