How Radio Enthusiasts Are Listening to Earth’s Secret Symphony – Facts So Romantic

Stephen McGreevy looked nervously at the sky. Outside his camper van in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, angry black clouds gathered on the horizon as 30-mile-per-hour winds whipped across the flat expanse. At his feet, an array of copper wire—hundreds of feet of it—writhed like snakes. As rain beat against the roof, McGreevy hastily gathered the cable, shoved it in the van among a tangle of recording equipment, and hit the road. He was headed for Oregon, where he planned to have the array set up again before dawn in hopes of capturing strange sounds from the sky.

The noises he was hunting were first discovered in the early days of radio. Soldiers on field telephones at the front lines of World War I would say that, some days, you could really hear the grenades fly—the staccato pops and falling whistles coming through the wire sounded like enemy fire. Their true source, however, was long an object of conjecture. Newspapers, for instance, touted them as extraterrestrial voices.

Today researchers understand these sounds to be the product of very low frequency (VLF) waves—radio frequencies with wavelengths from 10 to 100 kilometers. They are generated by natural phenomena—mostly thunderstorms, but also volcanoes and…

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