The Taos Hum
Taos is a small town in north-central New Mexico. To a passerby, it might not seem all that different from any other quiet American town. Listen carefully though, and you may find that Taos isn’t so quiet after all. Since the early 1990s, some residents and visitors of Taos have reported hearing a constant low-frequency buzzing or rumbling noise. We present to you the Taos Hum.
The Taos Hum has been described as a faint droning sound, similar to a diesel engine idling in the distance. It is a miserable noise for those that can hear it. It never stops, interferes with sleep, and is more noticeable at night and indoors.
The Hum became so bothersome to Taos residents that in 1993, locals voiced their concern about it to Congress. A public study was conducted to examine what could be going on. Residents were interviewed and various sound detection instruments were placed around the town.
The study found that only about 2 percent of Taos residents reported hearing the Hum. Many affected residents could replicate the sounds they heard, but no such signals were ever detected. The only unusual activity observed was elevated electromagnetic field levels, but this was determined to be the result of local power lines. No source of the Hum was ever identified.
Hums Around The World
Taos is not necessarily special when it comes to strange, mysterious humming sounds. There have actually been several similar cases around the world, many of which remain unexplained to this day.
During the late-1970s, residents of Bristol, England, were among the first people to report hearing a steady humming sound in the distance. In 1980, Bristol’s environmental health officers used noise monitoring equipment to try to track down the source. Though it was eventually blamed on automobile traffic and local factories, reports of the Hum continue to this day, some 40 years later.
The beachfront neighborhood of Bondi in Sydney, Australia, has also had a Hum for several years. As one resident told Australia’s Daily Telegraph, “It sends people around here crazy, all you can do is put music on to block it out. Some people leave fans on.”
A few years ago in Kokomo, Indiana, hundreds of residents reported hearing a Hum, and the city’s municipal government commissioned a study to investigate in 2003. Despite concluding the Hum was caused by nearby industrial noises, reports of the sound continued even after noise restrictions were placed on the suspected factories.
So what really is causing this mystery Hum? Well, it’s important to remember that sound is all around us. Most of it goes unnoticed until we start paying attention to it, and there are easily hundreds of possible explanations. Most researchers do feel fairly certain that the Hum is real, though there is no consensus on a direct cause.
Industrial equipment is often the first suspected source of the Hum, as was the case in Bristol and Kokomo. Other possible explanations include high-pressure gas lines, electrical power lines and wireless communication devices. There’s also a theory that the Hum could be the result of low-frequency electromagnetic radiation which is only audible to some people. Other environmental factors have also been blamed, including seismic activity like microseisms, which are very faint, low-frequency tremors that can be generated by the action of ocean waves.
Since it’s been hard to verify environmental causes, some have offered medical explanations for the Hum. Tinnitus is one potential cause. This is the perception of sound when no external noise is present. Testing has shown that many Hum hearers, however, have normal hearing.
Some have also proposed that people who can hear the Hum, like those in Taos, might have unusually strong hearing and are able to pick up noises that most other humans cannot. It’s also possible the Hum is simply an auditory hallucination. Some of the Taos Hum hearers, for example, have reported hearing it even after they have moved out of the area.
Of course, any time there is an unexplained phenomena in science, conspiracy theories are sure to follow.
Some believe the Hum is the result of military experiments or submarine communications. The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, has also been a popular target of conspiracy theorists. Some believe this government agency, which conducts research on Earth’s ionosphere, is conducting experiments which create the Hum (interestingly, conspiracy theorists also claim HAARP can manipulate weather).
And then there is the age-old culprit for anything unexplained – Aliens.
The Mystery Continues
Is an Alien spaceship hovering over Earth the real cause of the Hum? Unlikely.
As with most things in science, just because something is unexplained, doesn’t mean it never will be. There are various potential causes of this strange noise, and in each case, there may be different explanations. Whether the Taos Hum is real, or just a product of human imagination, will be best solved by further research down the line.
For now though, the Hum will remain a mystery.
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.