Scientists Detect “Mysterious Infrasound Signals” in Earth’s Stratosphere

It's a mystery miles above the planet's surface

Stratosphere exploration
It's been over 160 years since the first humans reached the stratosphere,.
SSPL/Getty Images

High above the surface of the planet, scientists have found evidence of sounds making their way through the stratosphere — and they’re not exactly sure of their point of origin. As scientific mysteries go, it’s a hook that’s difficult to resist.

Here’s what we do know: after conducting a series of experiments using solar-powered balloons, Daniel Bowman of Sandia National Laboratories described these findings as “mysterious infrasound signals that occur a few times per hour on some flights,” adding that “the source of these is completely unknown.”

Bowman’s findings were announced earlier this month. Because of the stratosphere’s relative isolation, scientists have found it to be a place where sounds rarely heard elsewhere can be observed and recorded. This is what makes Bowman’s discovery so mysterious and so compelling — the lack of a clear answer as to what the sounds are or where they’re coming from.

As Ben Turner noted at Live Science, Bowman is planning to continue to explore the origin of these sounds. Bowman presented his findings to date at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

The balloons themselves are relatively humble in their construction; Bowman said that the materials cost around $50, and are able to rise around 12.5 miles above the surface of the planet. “We build them using painter’s plastic from the hardware store, shipping tape, and charcoal powder from pyrotechnic supply stores,” Bowman said in a statement. “When the sun shines on the dark balloons, the air inside heats up and becomes buoyant.”

Consider it a blend of familiar objects, rising into the sky to document the unknown.

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