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According to scientists, Julie Andrews was right: The hills are alive with the sound of music. Okay,
so maybe music is a generous term for the phenomenon, but the hills really are
making noise, as is the entire planet Earth. You just can’t hear it because the
Earth’s natural hum is subsonic, occurring at a frequency far below the range
of the human ear.
Scientists first discovered the Earth’s hum—technically
referred to as background-free oscillation—while sorting through seismic data.
They couldn’t attribute a significant percentage of this “ground sound”
to recognized seismic activity, meaning that the Earth itself wasn’t moving—something
was moving the Earth.
Seismologists eventually realized that the atmosphere was
actually pushing and pulling against the planet, creating subsonic noise beyond
the normal rumble of seismic activity. Put simply, the air is
“playing” the planet like an instrument, creating a distinct hum.
The hum changes throughout the course of the year,
suggesting a seasonal and therefore thermal origin of the atmospheric pressures
fueling the Earth’s hum. As the changing seasons heat and cool the air, the
atmosphere expands and contracts accordingly, changing the placement and
intensity of pressure exerted against the earth, resulting in a change in
volume of the Earth’s hum.
Given the parameters of this phenomenon, it’s very likely
that the other planets in the solar system possessing an atmosphere also have
unique, cyclical hums. As such, Mars and Venus are probable candidates for
If it’s true, that means a cosmic symphony of planetary
tones is playing in our solar system even as we speak. We just can’t hear it
because the oscillations are simply too low in frequency.
Still, don’t think that the planets have the market cornered
on low-frequency sound. In 2003, scientists discovered that a nonplanetary
celestial object was emitting the lowest-frequency note ever detected.
WHAT CELESTIAL OBJECT EMITS THE LOWEST FREQUENCY NOTE EVER
What celestial object emits the lowest frequency note ever
detected, far below the low-frequency hum produced by Earth?
A black hole at the center of a galaxy in the Perseus
Cluster is currently generating a deep B-flat note that’s 57 octaves below a
tuned middle C on a piano.
Put another way, the lowest frequency sound a human being
can detect is 0.05 hertz, or a frequency of one-twentieth of a second. The Perseus
Cluster black hole generates sound with a frequency of 10 million years. This
represents the most sub-bass frequency ever detected.
To be precise, the black hole itself is silent, but the
stellar gases pulled into the gravitational well of the black hole are not. As
the gas falls toward the black hole’s event horizon, it accelerates to
velocities approaching the speed of light. This acceleration creates
turbulence, which in turn generates light, heat, and, within the medium of the
Of course, space being a near total vacuum (and the black
hole being 250 million light years away), the sound of the black hole hasn’t
actually reached Earth. British astronomers discovered it using NASA’s Chandra
X-ray Observatory while trying to analyze the formation of galactic clusters
such as Perseus.
The black hole in question is unusually energetic, emitting
a significant amount of X-ray radiation, which scientists used to model the
thermal and kinetic activity of the matter pulled into the black hole.
This modeling revealed the sonic tone induced by the black
hole, which could help explain why galactic gas clusters stay warm, rather than
cooling and collapsing. Massive celestial objects such as black holes are
“ringing” the gas clusters, which keep them energized and hot,
leading to some of the specific star formation behavior that scientists had
previously been unable to explain. Now that sounds like some great Geek Trivia.
Help choose GeekRepublic’s RSS feeds
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The Quibble of the Week
If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of
this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article.
Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and
discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.
This week, TechRepublic member Shchors has a quibble with the Sept. 8 edition of Geek Trivia, “A date
“You say that Harvard University was the ‘first institute
of higher learning in the New World.’ Harvard was the first college in [North] America
(the continent), but there were a few universities before it was founded in
“The first university of America, which continues to
exist today, is the National Autonomous University of Mexico, founded in 1551,
although there’s some debate on whether the University of Michoacan (also in
Mexico) was founded before that year.”
Exhibiting typical American egocentrism, I used the terms American colonies and New World interchangeably, and this
reader was right to call me out on it. Thanks for keeping me honest, reader.
The Trivia Geek, also
known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s
duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic
books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.