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No. 3: April 1978

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Modern Episode Of Offshore Booms

Beginning in December 1977, offshore detonations heard along the Atlantic Coast from Canada to South Carolina captured the media's fancy. Newspapers and TV news programs all over the country described these unidentified explosions. However, not a word about the detonations appeared in most of the scientific publications we regularly monitor, with the exception of the British New Scientist and a recent article in Science, 199:1416, March 31, 1978.

Comment. The detonations were rather strong, shaking houses and even causing picture windows to fall out. In some instances, flashes of light and other luminous phenomena were reported. The sounds were characterized as "air quakes" by some scientists because they did not always register on seismographs, although they were usually recorded on air-pressure monitoring equipment.

One's first inclination is to attribute such detonations to supersonic aircraft and missles, but the U.S. military immediately denied they were to blame. Seismic noises come to mind next, but the frequent failure to register the events on seismographs suggested an atmospheric phenomenon. The National Enquirer (January 24, 1978) rather predictably linked the booms to UFOs. In the federal government, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) was assigned the task of tracking down the booms. In March, NRL reported that all of the 183 detonations they investigated were due to supersonic aircraft. That seemed to end the matter -- just as the Condon Report signalled the demise of UFOs!!

The booms had an interesting side effect: they triggered urgent requests for the two Strange Phenomena sourcebooks from several universities, think-tanks, and intelligence agencies. There may be more to this than meets the ear. For more information, see Walter Sullivan's articles in the new York Times of January 13 and 19, 1978. The Strange Phenomena sourcebooks are superceded by a series of four geophysics Catalogs. One of these, Earthquakes, Tides, Unidentified Sounds, describes many other mysterious "booms." More information here.

From Science Frontiers #3, April 1978. 1978-2000 William R. Corliss