Northern Lights Have Accompanying Sounds We Can Hear, Expert Explains

  • Some individuals, together with Arctic explorers, have reported listening to sounds when viewing the northern lights.
  • An professional explains what might trigger these rustling noises: One idea suggests they arrive from electrically charged particles crackling in Earth’s environment.

It is a query that has puzzled observers for centuries: Do the unbelievable inexperienced and crimson gentle shows of the aurora borealis produce any discernible sound? 

Conjured by the interplay of photo voltaic particles with gasoline molecules in Earth’s environment, the aurora usually happens near Earth’s poles, the place the magnetic area is strongest. Experiences of the aurora making a noise, nevertheless, are uncommon — and have been traditionally dismissed by scientists.

However a Finnish study in 2016 claimed to have lastly confirmed that the northern lights actually do produce sound audible to the human ear. A recording made by one of many researchers concerned within the research even claimed to have captured the sound made by the charming lights 230 ft (70 meters) above floor stage.


Nonetheless, the mechanism behind the sound stays considerably mysterious, as are the circumstances that have to be met for the sound to be heard. My recent research takes a glance over historic reviews of auroral sound to know the strategies of investigating this elusive phenomenon and the method of building whether or not reported sounds have been goal, illusory of imaginary.

Folks have mentioned the northern lights sound like rustling silk

Auroral noise was the topic of significantly full of life debate within the first many years of the twentieth century, when accounts from settlements throughout northern latitudes reported that sound typically accompanied the mesmerizing gentle shows of their skies.

Witnesses advised of a quiet, virtually imperceptible crackling, whooshing, or whizzing noise throughout significantly violent northern lights shows. Within the early Thirties, for example, personal testimonies began flooding into The Shetland News, the weekly newspaper of the subarctic Shetland Islands, likening the sound of the northern lights to “rustling silk” or “two planks assembly flat methods.”

These tales have been corroborated by related testimony from northern Canada and Norway. But the scientific group was lower than satisfied, particularly contemplating only a few western explorers claimed to have heard the elusive noises themselves.

reuters environmental photos of the year 2019

The northern lights above Ivalo in Lapland, Finland on September 27, 2019.

Alexander Kuznetsov/Reuters

The credibility of auroral noise reviews from this time was intimately tied to altitude measurements of the northern lights. It was thought of that solely these shows that descended low into the Earth’s environment would be capable to transmit sound which might be heard by the human ear.

The issue right here was that outcomes recorded through the Second International Polar Year of 1932 to 1933 discovered aurorae mostly passed off 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth, and really not often under 50 miles (80 kilometers). This instructed it might be unimaginable for discernible sound from the lights to be transmitted to the Earth’s floor.

Given these findings, eminent physicists and meteorologists remained skeptical, dismissing accounts of auroral sound and really low aurorae as folkloric tales or auditory illusions.

Sir Oliver Lodge, the British physicist concerned within the growth of radio know-how, commented that auroral sound may be a psychological phenomenon as a result of vividness of the aurora’s look — simply as meteors typically conjure a whooshing sound within the mind. Equally, the meteorologist George Clark Simpson argued that the looks of low aurorae was seemingly an optical illusion attributable to the interference of low clouds.

The aurora’s sound might come from the electrical energy in Earth’s environment

Nonetheless, the main auroral scientist of the twentieth century, Carl Størmer, published accounts written by two of his assistants who claimed to have heard the aurora, including some legitimacy to the big quantity of non-public reviews.

Størmer’s assistant Hans Jelstrup mentioned he had heard a “very curious faint whistling sound, distinctly undulatory, which appeared to observe precisely the vibrations of the aurora,” whereas his different assistant, Mr. Tjönn, skilled a sound like “burning grass or spray.” As convincing as these two final testimonies might have been, they nonetheless did not suggest a mechanism by which auroral sound might function.

Northern lights Longyearbyen Svalbard

The northern lights above Longyearbyen, in Svalbard, Norway.


The reply to this enduring thriller which has subsequently garnered essentially the most assist was first tentatively instructed in 1923 by Clarence Chant, a widely known Canadian astronomer. He argued that the movement of the northern lights alters Earth’s magnetic area, inducing adjustments within the electrification of the environment, even at a major distance.

This electrification produces a crackling sound a lot nearer to Earth’s floor when it meets objects on the bottom, very similar to the sound of static. This might happen on the observer’s garments or spectacles, or probably in surrounding objects together with fir bushes or the cladding of buildings.

Chant’s idea correlates properly with many accounts of auroral sound, and can also be supported by occasional reviews of the odor of ozone — which reportedly carries a metallic odor much like {an electrical} spark — throughout northern lights shows.

But Chant’s paper went largely unnoticed within the Nineteen Twenties, solely receiving recognition within the Seventies when two auroral physicists revisited the historic proof. Chant’s idea is essentially accepted by scientists at the moment, though there’s still debate as to how precisely the mechanism for producing the sound operates.

What is obvious is that the aurora does, on uncommon events, make sounds audible to the human ear. The eerie reviews of crackling, whizzing and buzzing noises accompanying the lights describe an goal audible expertise — not one thing illusory or imagined.

If you wish to hear the northern lights, head to a mountaintop

If you wish to hear the northern lights for your self, you might have to spend a substantial period of time within the polar areas, contemplating the aural phenomenon solely presents itself in 5% of violent auroral displays. It is also mostly heard on the highest of mountains, surrounded by just a few buildings — so it is not an particularly accessible expertise.

alaska aurora borealis fall

The aurora borealis lights up the sky above Denali Nationwide Park in Alaska in September 2017.

Lance King/Getty Photographs

Lately, the sound of the aurora has nonetheless been explored for its aesthetic worth, inspiring musical compositions and laying the inspiration for novel methods of interacting with its electromagnetic alerts.

The Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds has used journal extracts from American explorer Charles Corridor and Norwegian statesman Fridjtof Nansen — each of whom claimed to have heard the northern lights — in his music. Ešenvalds composition, Northern Lights, interweaves these reviews with the one recognized Latvian people music recounting the auroral sound phenomenon, sung by a tenor solo.

Or you can too hearken to the radio alerts of the northern lights at dwelling. In 2020, a BBC 3 radio program remapped very low frequency radio recordings of the aurora onto the audible spectrum. Though not the identical as perceiving audible noises produced by the the northern lights in particular person on a snowy mountaintop, these radio frequencies give an superior sense of the aurora’s transitory, fleeting, and dynamic nature.

The Conversation | Northern Lights Have Accompanying Sounds We Can Hear, Skilled Explains


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