The people who claim to hear the Northern Lights

Some people have claimed the aurora borealis makes discernible crackling, whooshing or whizzing sounds. Are they highly perceptive, or are the sounds a trick of the mind?

It’s a question that has puzzled observers for centuries: do the fantastic green and crimson light displays of the aurora borealis produce any discernible sound?

Conjured by the interaction of solar particles with gas molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, the aurora generally occurs near Earth​​’s poles, where the magnetic field is strongest. Reports of the aurora making a noise, however, are rare – and were historically dismissed by scientists.

But a Finnish study from 2016 claimed to have finally confirmed that the Northern Lights really do produce sound audible to the human ear. One of the researchers involved in the study captured a sound, possibly made by the captivating lights, that was estimated to have originated 70m (230ft) above ground level.

Still, the mechanism behind the sound remains somewhat mysterious, as are the conditions that must be met for the sound to be heard. My recent research takes a look over historic reports of auroral sound to understand the methods of investigating this elusive phenomenon and the process of establishing whether reported sounds were objective, illusory or imaginary.

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