Here we are in a new year! Let’s hope it’s a good one.

Mystery booms and Skyquakes of 2022

In 2021, I began keeping track of mystery booms reported in the media. Mystery booms are unsettling because they signal some sort of danger from below ground, on the surface, or in the sky. Often, we just can’t tell because sound is hard to trace. And then it’s gone. Better technology allows us to gather additional evidence for these sounds and, it turns out, many have definite or probable causes. While some dramatic commentators still insist the sounds herald the coming apocalypse, that’s not true. Instead, they are obvious mundane sources, suspected secret sources, or indicators of events to which we should certainly pay attention.

I collected a list of 41 events around the world. Granted, this is skewed by my necessary preference for English news reporting. So, this is not a scientific study. No one else, as far I can find, has written an analysis of mystery booms in such a time frame. When considering the causes, notable characteristics are season, weather, and the occurrence of an associated flash. Was it a weekend, or a holiday that might indicate celebratory explosives? Also important is if the sound is single or multiple booms. Out of the 41 events:

  • 31 were singles booms
  • 7 events were multiple booms over times (hours or days)
  • 3 events were described as two booms in close succession

I noted that booms are more likely to be heard and a cause for concern in the cold months. There may be solid reasons for this. People are in their homes during the winter. Sound from various sources travels farther in cold air, when there is less vegetative cover on trees. A structure with closed windows may amplify the sound. Low cloud cover can reflect sounds back to the ground. Back in 2021, out of 43 events I documented, 15 occurred in December alone. 

For 2022, I kept track of what authorities and/or the media noted were the suspected causes of the booms. Some are easy to pinpoint if they are associated with other evidence – such as a visual report of a meteor or ground evidence of an explosion. Some events have strong circumstantial evidence due to location or timing – such as military aircraft testing, explosive materials/fireworks, lightning storms, or shallow earthquakes. 

Of the 41 events logged:

  • 7 were definite or suspected aircraft-created sonic booms or loud noise – military jets, rocket launch or spaceplane
  • 5 were definite shallow small earthquakes
  • 4 were definite meteor airburst/sonic booms
  • 3 were definite or suspected explosive material – fireworks, tannerite, or homemade bombs
  • 2 were related to lightning storms
  • 2 were probable frost quakes
  • 2 were industrial noise malfunction
  • 5 were sonic booms of unknown origin
  • 11 remain of unknown origin because of insufficient information 

There are some patterns that emerge. 

  1. Explosives. High explosives like fireworks or tannerite are easily available and readily used, particularly in rural areas. They are legal means to make a big noise, and some people love to dramatically blow up their money. Unless the event is directly witnessed, people who hear the noise may not see the source and, because it has occurred on private property, no evidence may be found to definitively point to the source.
  2. Frost quakes. Sudden drops in temperatures can create frost quakes. This natural phenomenon is not that familiar even to those in northern areas where they may occur each year. The freezing of water inside rock fractures has the ability to break rock with force, creating a sound and sometimes visible physical damage. But it may go unnoticed. Identification of frost quakes is slowly becoming more common. 
  3. Meteors. It’s never been easier to confirm meteors entering the atmosphere and exploding. Security cameras have captured streaks across the sky. Weather satellites sometimes catch the bright flash. People across the world report their visual sightings to databases on the internet. A check at some websites can confirm if a meteor was noted at nighttime where its demise may have resulted in a loud boom. A tiny meteor can make a big noise. But if atmospheric entry occurs in the daytime, it is less likely to be spotted. 
  4. Coastal. Many booms are reported in coastal areas. Often these are called “Seneca guns” (even off the coast of the southern US, which is nowhere near Seneca Lake from which the noises are named). The ocean surface can transmit the sound long distances to shore. Also, military flights are more common offshore. Mystery booms are commonly reported in coastal New Jersey and in the Carolinas. If these booms are sonic booms from military aircraft, officials are often less than helpful in confirming that cause. When secret maneuvers remain secret, we are left with insufficient information to be certain.
  5. Earthquakes. Much of the US is covered by an array of seismic detection equipment. But small, shallow quakes may not register unless the seismograph is very close. Many shallow quakes can be missed and may account for some of the booming sounds. However, with increased seismic arrays, we will be able to pick up a ground signal if there is one. Seismic signals are distinct from surface blasts (from mines/quarries or explosives) and from airborne explosions. It could be that in the future, we will see more shallow quakes confirmed as causing booms. 

Finally, we are left with a residual of mystery booms that remain of unknown origins. Additional information may have been missed or lost. It is very difficult to locate the origin of a surprising and low-frequency sound. Additionally, atmospheric conditions can amplify, transmit, or distort the sound. We rarely have this specific information readily available. Therefore, unexplainable events are inevitable and some will remain mysterious. 

My conclusion from this year of analyzing mystery booms is that the world is a noisy place and it is getting ever more so all the time. Our ability to share experiences almost immediately means the events appear to be more prevalent, simply because we can hear about more of them. However, we now have better tools that can help us figure out the origin of so-called sky quakes. We shouldn’t fear them but aim to seek out the most probable sources. There is a good chance we can determine the cause.

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