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A little known but rather strange phenomenon relating to meteors is that about ten percent of those who witness a very luminous fireball tell of hearing “strange swishing, hissing and popping noises coincident with its passage across the sky”. The problem is that these ‘sounds’ are an impossibility – most meteors are, at the very least, tens of kilometres away from the observer, and as such any associated sounds should be delayed until well after the fireball has burned up. It is as if the sound is somehow traveling at the speed of light.

Physicist Colin Keay has pointed out that similarly strange phenomena have also occurred in association with space shuttle re-entries, lightning strikes, in the lead-up to earthquakes, and in nuclear weapon detonations, and as such has proposed that the sounds may be caused by transduction of extremely low frequency (ELF) radio waves (see for example this article in the Journal of Scientific Exploration , “Progress in Explaining the Mysterious Sounds Produced by Very Large Fireballs“).

And it has long been theorised that meteors could produce such waves. In 1958, Gerald Hawkins (who many readers of this site would know as a pioneer of astronomical theories concerning Stonehenge), predicted that the plasma trail produced by a fireball as it ionises the air in the atmosphere should generate radio waves as it cools. And now, new research has – almost accidentally – discovered evidence to support Hawkins’ prediction:

Kenneth Obenberger at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and his colleagues were searching for mysterious events called radio bursts in data from the Long Wavelength Array, an observatory in New Mexico. Radio bursts show up as points of radiation in images. But to the team’s surprise, analysis of 11,000 hours of data included evidence of 10 low-frequency radio bursts that appeared smudged across the sky.

The shapes of the smudges were reminiscent of fireballs streaming through the sky. So the team looked at data from a NASA survey telescope that records meteors and that scans some of the same parts of the sky as the radio array. Each of the elongated radio events correlated in time and space with known fireballs, says Obenberger.

How does this relate to the paranormal? In Volume 1 of our Fortean anthology series Darklore, I noted how many paranormal experiences were preceded by the experience of strange noises (see “Her Sweet Murmur“, republished here on TDG) similar to those described by Colin Keay. So could there be a relation between paranormal experiences and ELF radio waves? In some cases, such as near-death experiences, it seems unlikely. But in other spontaneous sightings of strange craft and beings, perhaps there could be something to the idea that the brain is being affected in some way by ELF waves (an idea that has been explored in the past by neuroscientist Dr. Michael Persinger).

Speculative, certainly, but an interesting possibility all the same.

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