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No. 38: Mar-Apr 1985

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The sounds that shouldn't have been

November 1984. Several Texas localities.

The spectacular reentry of the Space Shuttle Discovery was observed by many Texans in the pre-dawn skies. Among these were Ben and Jeannette Killingsworth. As they observed the Space Shuttle streak across the sky, "they both heartd an unmistakable 'swishing noise' as it passed south of their rural Galveston County home. The sonic boom came several minutes later -- but the swishing sound occurred simultaneously with the visual apparition....Ben graphically described the sounds as 'like a skier coming down a slope,' but with a rapid fluctuation in loudness, 'about two or three hertz.' Jeannette compared the faint sound to the noise made by a fast boat as it slaps across waves on a choppy lake. 'But there was no motor noise,' she added, 'just a sound like repeated puffs of air through your mouth.'"

Oberg points out that the mysterious Space Shuttle sounds are basically the same as the anomalous swishes and whizzes attributed by some to meteors. So far, few scientists have accepted meteor sounds as real, preferring to label them "psychological." But now that the Space Shuttles are known to generate similar anomalous sounds, perhaps scientists will install instruments along their well-known reentry paths and find out what is really happening.

(Oberg, Jim; "Shuttle 'Sounds' May Provide Answer to Old Puzzle," Houstonian, January 1985, p. 4. A McDonnell Douglas publication. Cr. J. Oberg)

Comment. One possible explanation of anomalous meteor sounds is that a few individuals detect electromagnetic signals as sounds; i.e., they are "electrophonic" sounds. The history of auroral sounds is basically the same as that of anomalous meteor sounds. They may both have the same explanation. See category GSH in Earthquakes, Tides, Unidentified Sounds. Details on this Catalog may be found here.

From Science Frontiers #38, MAR-APR 1985. 1985-2000 William R. Corliss