Changing Planet

Did You Hear the Northern Lights?

Mark Thiessen, NGM staff

Next time you are lucky enough to witness an aurora borealis, you may want to also listen carefully for some faint applause. According to a new study announced this week, colorful displays of northern lights may actually produce audible clapping sounds. Finnish researcher Unto K. Laine from Aalto University has been studying the phenomenon for over a decade and believes that he has captured a distinct sound associated with intense episodes of northern lights.

Auroras occur when charged particles are thrown off the Sun as solar wind, then travel across interplanetary space, eventually interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field. This sets off the colorful displays.

There have been stories about an eerie noise associated with auroras for over a century at least, centered around the Arctic region where displays are more frequent and powerful. Most of these stories, however, have been considered just folklore and hearsay.

Many describe what they heard as being comparable to that of a radio left on a station that has gone off the air. Sort of a faint crackling or a hissing sound.

“In history there are thousands of relevant observations, but recordings also exist that consists of many different type sounds described by observers around the world such as crackling, clapping, popping, booms and low frequency noise,” says Laine.

In the new study, researchers set up three separate sites with highly sensitive microphones at the focus of parabolic dish antennae and recorded faint but distinct noises during some but not all intense geomagnetic activity.

“We found statistically significant correlations between sound pressure levels and geomagnetic activity in many different frequency bands,” says Laine.



There are a lots of ideas out there on what may be causing the sounds, with one theory saying that the culprit may be tree needles or pine cones—where there is a potential for an electrical gradient and a subsequent discharge.

The most popular hypothesis by far is the brush discharge mechanism in the atmosphere, says Laine, where geomagnetic storms may generate large charges in the atmosphere and these can suddenly get discharged with a clap sound.

He adds that while the scientific community has been left stumped as to how these noises could be produced, most sounds when they occur can be heard for a few minutes during a powerful display.


– The new study will be published in the proceedings of the 19th International Congress on Sound and Vibration.



Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • Notanee Bourassa

    Hearing it. Yes we hear it too, no trees around either. I think its causing surface that are electromagnetically senstitive to hum. But last winter at kp6-7 I swore it was coming from the ground, there was just so much sound could not zero it in to a point, it was the entire area. Maybe iron ore under the surface?

  • Eric

    I’ve heard in in Wisconsin but nothing like when I was an Observer aboard a factory trawler in the Bering Sea while working for NOAA/NMFS. I remember the sound not as much as a ‘clap’ but more like a synthesized ‘whoosh & shoo’! Really incredible. My tour was from December – March, 1990-91.

  • […] Read more about this novel research on noisy auroras and hear an actual clip of these eerie sounds i… Bookmark Tags: aurora sounds, Auroras, northern lightsPosted in Auroras, Solar System | No Comments » […]

  • Max Hahto

    Wait for it… the sound of music!

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  • Krishna kumar G

    It may be like Thunder sound when raining.

  • Julia

    I don’t think that sounds like a clap but like a wire pulled tightly that snaps and then echoes … maybe like a spring breaking

  • Sherylee

    I have heard them when on Keenan’s farm, Ord Hill, east of Williams Lake. For me laying in my skidoo suit out on the snow in the wee hours watching and listening, I would hear a crackle or high pitched whine as the Spirits danced across the sky in their pastel rainbow veils of light.

  • Cindy

    The couple of times I’ve heard the Auroras, they sounded more like delicate hissing chimes. Both times I was near large bodies of open water: at Whiteshell Provincial Park on the Big Whiteshell in May, and at Patricia Beach on Lake Winnipeg in summer.

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  • Libelula

    Hello!! Yesss!!! this phenomenon is very interesting and incredible!!! is that true that lot of people in alaska rent tehir homes for turist, near the zones qhere the aurora can be seen perfectly?? is that very expensive??? plz, somebody ask!! 😀 I’d love to see this phenomenon with my own eyes!!!!

  • Here

    Dear webmaster, thank you for writing that article on Northernlights. I had a good time while reading this. I wish you all the best, Chris Eric!

  • […] Did You Hear the Northern Lights?. Rate this:Share this:EmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

  • dreamyremy

    hope more and more success

  • Helen Baker

    i love this picture xx

  • Sbn

    Subhan Allah

  • Erin

    My Mom told me from the time I was little about seeing intense northern lights and being able to hear them. She said they sounded like static and were somewhat bell-like. She went most of her life wondering if it might have been her imagination until watching a documentary on the subject a few years ago. If you think about it though, why would they NOT make a sound? Sound itself travels in waves, light travels in waves, and many other things in nature follow repeated patterns that exist in more than one part of the sense-spectrum. A static spark makes a sound but only really when it comes in contact with something… I think it’s fascinating!

  • […] source […]

  • […] Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?). […]

  • Steve

    I have seen some very amazing displays, but have only heard them once in my life. In the early 1980’s, a group of us were winter camping on Snowshoe Lake, near Nopoming Park in Southeastern Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario. It was near the end of Feb, temperature was around -20(C), approximately 1000 P.M. and I decided to take one of the snowmobiles out to the middle of the lake to watch the light show. As I lay on the ice watching the bands of pulsing colours radiating overhead from the Northern horizon I noticed a sound similar to the hissing of a TV station that was off the air (pre-HDTV!), and the volume seemed to increase the more overhead the bands of light approached. The sound had to have been coming from the bands themselves as I was thousands of yards from the shoreline, laying on over 4 feet of frozen water-unforgettable!!

  • Carol Santos

    Not a scientist, but it makes sense that if we have thunder during a rain storm, that a solar storm would be accompanied by some sort of noise (or “thunder”.)

  • Carol Santos

    Not a scientist, but it makes sense that if a rainstorm is accompanied by thunder, that a solar storm would also be accompanied by some sort of noise.

  • Beautiful Wallpaper

    this site is so beautiful.this site depend on northern lights.ext time you are lucky enough to witness an aurora borealis, you may want to also listen carefully for some faint applause. According to a new study announced this week, colorful displays of northern lights.

  • […] known of the phenomenon but have not experienced it. Here is a link: Did You Hear the Northern Lights? | National Geographic (blogs) The deposition of charged particles into the upper atmosphere can cause electrical discharges […]

  • joseph

    Wow, what a stunning the video!! the northern lights

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