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No. 94: Jul-Aug 1994

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Mystery Radio Bursts

"Mysterious double bursts of radio emissions, originating near the surface of the earth, have been detected by a small satellite designed to spot nuclear blasts.

"Although the powerful pulses of electromagnetic energy occur predominantly at times of day favored by thunderstorms, they are not accompanied by flashes of visible light and they do not resemble the emissions generated by classic lightning."

Since November 5, 1993, about 100 of these bursts have been detected by a special radio receiver named "Blackbird" mounted on the Alexis satellite. Most of the bursts have been recorded over Africa and South America, although they may also be frequent elsewhere but are drowned out by man-made radio noise from the ground.

The bursts come in pairs that are separated by 40 microseconds. The frequency dispersion of the bursts indicates that the signals have passed through the earth's ionosphere before reaching the satellite. Most bursts are picked up in the afternoon and early morning.

There is some speculation that the bursts may be associated with the flashes of light recently reported above storm systems. (SF#90)

(Quote from: Sawyer, Kathy; "Electrodynamics: Strange Bursts from the Sky," Washington Post, February 14, 1994. Also: Monastersky, R.; "Puzzling Atmospheric Bursts Spark Interest," Science News, 145:100, 1994. Hecht, Jeff; "Satellite Tunes in to Mystery Radio Bursts," New Scientist, p. 7, February 26, 1994.)

From Science Frontiers #94, JUL-AUG 1994. 1994-2000 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