For 30 years, one man has been obsessed with the whisperings of the aurora borealis. His search for its origins may finally be over
LATE one evening, at a jazz festival in the remote village of Saariselkä in northern Finland, Unto Laine and his friends decided to go outside to watch the aurora borealis and listen to the silence.
It was -35°C and completely still as the Northern Lights played overhead. “We all started to listen without talking, without moving and almost even without breathing,” says Laine. They wanted to hear how quiet it could be with no traffic, no wind and everyone asleep.
But to their surprise, the silence wasn’t total. The group became aware of a faint background sound, a sort of hissing that seemed to change in synchrony with the movements of the aurora.
“We started to discuss whether these sounds could be caused by the aurora and we all agreed – no way,” says Laine. “The aurora is so high that the sounds created there could not be audible on the ground.”
That was in 1990. Laine forgot about the rustling aurora until he revisited the jazz festival in 1999. He once again found himself puzzled by the mysterious sound. He may not have been the first person to be intrigued by this phenomenon, but he was perhaps best placed to solve it.
Laine studies psychoacoustics – the science of sound and how we perceive it – at Aalto University in Helsinki. He has now spent much of the past 20 years fighting to prove that the aurora isn’t simply a feast for the eyes; there is magic for the ears as well …
View Article Here New Scientist – Earth