When Ryan Dickie was photographing the northern lights on a remote Canadian stretch without anyone nearby, a sizzling sound started echoing in the valley.
The 36-year-old indigenous Dene photographer and conservationist from the Fort Nelson First Nation decided to distance a bit from light pollution and shoot what he hoped to be a marvellous sky show.
But, instead of the sight, it was sound that intrigued him.
He later explained that when you live in the north of British Columbia, you learn stories of the northern lights making sounds and that if you whistle at them, they’ll come closer to the ground.
His grandma actually told him a story that when she was a child growing up in the surroundings of the Liard River, the northern lights would make clicking sounds like ones we make to call our dogs.
However, Dickie explains when he heard it; it wasn’t like this, but more like a metal piece hitting a pan.
There Are Countless Reports of Hearing Sounds with the Aurora
In areas like Arctic Canada, Arctic Alaska, North Norway, and Finnish Lapland, there are numerous reports of people claiming they’ve heard sounds when the northern lights appear.
According to one member of the Tlingit tribe from Honaah, Alaska, Mamie Williams, their grandmas always told them to listen for the lights when they were kids.
A cultural interpreter for Alaska Native Voices, Williams believes it’s the ancestors letting them know that they’ve crossed over, but are still with them.
She explains that the brighter the lights get, the clearer and the more sounds are heard. Although not unusual amongst the people who live nearby the lights, the scientific research on this matter is scarce.
Unto K. Laine’s Theory of the Aurora Borealis Sounds
Unto K. Laine first heard a sound with the northern lights when he was gone to visit a remote village in the north of Finland back in 1990 for a jazz festival.
Today a professor emeritus in acoustics at the Finnish Aalto University, he attended the festival with four friends.
And, he proposed them to listen to the quietness of the Lapland. Instead of silence, the five friends heard ‘soft sounds like bursting soap bubbles’.
And, this experience never left Laine-especially when he knew there was anecdotal evidence of sounds accompanying the Northern Lights.
He also has a theory about what is really that people hear when they gaze at the aurora. He published his theory in 2016 and it relies on the temperature inversion layer hypothesis.
It claims that the sound people link with the aurora is actually a result of electric discharge at lower altitudes.
These sparks, emit from the lights during clear and calm weather when a layer in the atmosphere is produced.
During the evening on a sunny day, warm air that’s close to the ground begins rising while the temperature on the ground reduces. And, the rising of warm air ceases below 100 meters altitude.
And, it’s this warm air layer, with a colder air above and below, that’s called the temperature inversion layer.
For decades, Laine recorded these sounds with equipment.
His theory actually inspired a new project that launches this summer in Finland with volunteers from the Hankasalmi Observatory.
They’ll record potential sounds from the lights 24 hours per day with 4, unlike Laine’s 3 mics.
The hope is to pinpoint where they’re coming from and thus, prove or disapprove Laine’s theory, explains the president of the observatory, Arto Oksanen.