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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

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987