Over Christmas, a tour guide in Sweden recorded sounds that appear to be emanating from the Northern Lights and which sound very much like Star Wars blasters. In recordings, these come across as crackling sounds and blips. Others have recorded similar sounds coming from the Aurora Borealis and Science Alert has reported that there is mounting evidence that there must be odd physics at play if the Northern Lights are actually able to “manifest into sound.”
Oliver Wright is a photographer and tour guide with Lights Over Lapland, and has described the sounds that he heard from the Northern Lights over Christmas.
“On Christmas Night 2016, I was standing beneath an intense display of auroras in Abisko, Sweden, when I heard something that sounded like Star Wars blasters. Other bystanders heard it, too. I rushed closer to the power lines and was able to record a sample using my iPhone.”
Oliver Wright noted that the sounds would change and either become louder or softer, depending on the brightness of the Northern Lights overhead. Wright also noticed that the sound grew extremely intense when power lines were near and that he has heard these same sounds three other times.
For centuries, people have been hearing sounds around the Aurora Borealis, and these have been largely dismissed. However, Live Science reported that a scientist in southern Finland, Unto K. Laine, has spent 15 years searching for the “almost phantasmagorical sounds” that some have heard when the Northern Lights displays are very intense. While most have called it an illusion to associate any sounds with the Aurora Borealis, Laine has proven that these sounds are real.
These Star Wars blaster sounds that are associated with the Northern Lights may be due to sparks of electricity which discharge under the Aurora in an “inversion layer of the atmosphere,” and which can be created in calm and clear weather conditions.
Unto K. Laine described his interest in the acoustics of the Northern Lights as resulting from memories of an experience he and a group of friends had shared 25 years ago when they had heard sounds coming from the Aurora.
“This experience never left me. We had to concentrate, we did not move or talk at all. A few of us did not hear it, because at that time, the aurora wasn’t very strong, and it was a very low-intensity sound. I could never forget this experience; it was so strange. The sounds are diverse and can vary quite a lot, and it is very possible that there are many different mechanisms creating the sounds. I have been concentrating more on the clapping, popping and crackling, because they are good for estimating the direction of the sound.”
In September 2011, Laine was able to use microphones to capture clapping sounds of the Northern Lights and published research in 2012, which had the first recordings of the Aurora Borealis. Unto pointed out that when he recorded the Northern Lights, he made certain that his microphones were in open fields and next to frozen lakes, thus ruling out any theories that the sounds he recorded could have been made by trees.
When Laine presented his research on the acoustics and sounds of the Northern Lights to the Baltic-Nordic Acoustic Meeting in Stockholm, he put forward the theory that the sounds that are heard may come from electrical charges that are built up in an inversion layer, while at the same time there are opposite charges being built up by trapped air that is cold.
When the Aurora Borealis appears above the inversion layer that is charged, you will get geomagnetic disturbances which will take the accumulated electricity and cause it to discharge with sparks, and it is these which create the pulses and Star Wars blaster sounds that you hear from the Northern Lights.
Andrew Fazekas has also described the phenomenon of the Northern Lights and the sounds that it can create because of the inversion layer and electrical charge, as reported in National Geographic.
“This inversion layer then acts like a lid, trapping negative electrical charge in the region below it and positive charge in the air above. When a geomagnetic storm hits Earth, the lid breaks and the charge is released, creating the weird sounds.”
Have you seen the Northern Lights in person and, if so, did you ever hear any sounds that you thought came from the Aurora Borealis?
[Featured Image by Gregorio Borgia/AP Images]