9 Strange Sounds No One Can Explain

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Everyone has a favorite Wikipedia rabbit hole. Mine is “List of Unexplained Sounds.” I can’t remember how I first made my way to the page, but its array of sonic mysteries has shown me that while space is incredible, our planet is its own frontier of intrigue and unexplainable phenomena.

1. Upsweep

Upsweep is an unidentified sound that’s existed at least since the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory began recording SOSUS—an underwater sound surveillance system with listening stations around the world—in 1991. The sound “consists of a long train of narrow-band upsweeping sounds of several seconds duration each.” The source location is difficult to identify, but it's in the Pacific, around the halfway point between Australia and South America. Upsweep changes with the seasons, becoming loudest in spring and autumn, though it isn’t clear why. The leading theory is that it’s related to volcanic activity. 

2. The Whistle

The Whistle was recorded on July 7, 1997, and only one hydrophone—the underwater microphones used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—picked it up. The location is unknown and limited information has made it difficult to speculate on the source. 

3. Bloop

Bloop is the big kahuna in unexplained sounds. In 1997 (a big year for auditory ocean mysteries), an extremely powerful, ultra-low-frequency sound was detected at various listening stations thousands of miles apart and traced to somewhere west of the southern tip of South America. The sound only lasted about a minute and and was heard repeatedly over the summer, but not since. Bloop is generally believed to be the sound of a massive icequake, but scientists haven’t totally ruled out the possibility that the sound originated from something “organic.” 

That’s where things get eerie. If an animal was the source of Bloop, it would have to be larger than a blue whale. The most fanciful of all theories stems from the fact that Bloop’s location is somewhat close to author H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional sunken city of R’lyeh, where the creature known as Cthulhu lies “dead but dreaming.” Cthulhu can best be described as part man, dragon, and octopus, which seems as likely a source as any for the ocean’s greatest aural anomaly. 

4. Julia

Julia was recorded on March 1, 1999, lasted for roughly 15 seconds, and was loud enough to be heard by the entire Equatorial Pacific Ocean hydrophone array. An Antarctic iceberg run aground is the leading suspect for its source. 

5. Slow Down

Slow Down was first recorded on May 19, 1997 and is also credited to an iceberg running aground, though some people insist it might be a giant squid. The sound, lasting about 7 minutes, gradually decreases in frequency, hence the name “slow down.” Like Upsweep, the sound has been heard periodically since it was initially detected. 

6. The Hum

The Hum has been recorded on several occasions, mostly during the last 50 years or so. In these cases, there have been reports of a relentless and troubling low-frequency humming noise that can only heard by a certain portion of the population. It’s difficult to pinpoint when instances of the Hum began, but it’s been well-documented since the 1970s, and since then, cases have popped up all over the world—from Ontario, Canada to Taos, New Mexico to Bristol, England to Largs, Scotland and Auckland, New Zealand.

In most instances, the affected group only makes up around two percent of the population, but for those individuals, the Hum is largely inescapable and impossible to track. Those affected report never having heard noises before, and say the Hum is generally heard indoors and becomes louder at night. It’s also most common in rural and suburban areas and among people between age 55 and 70. 

Scientists have long investigated the cause of the drone, occasionally tracing it to industrial equipment emitting particular frequencies. For the most part, though, the sound has left the world completely puzzled. The list of other possible culprits is long and wide-ranging—wireless communication devices, power or gas lines, electromagnetic radiation, radio waves, or earth tremors are all suspects. Because the Hum appears and disappears and because the cause may vary from case to case, the phenomenon still baffles researchers. At this point, a few things are clear: The Hum is real and likely a byproduct of 21st-century living. 

7. Skyquakes

Skyquakes, or unexplained sonic booms, have been heard around the world for the last 200 years or so, usually near bodies of water. These headscratchers have been reported on the Ganges in India, the East Coast and inland Finger Lakes of the U.S., near the North Sea, as well as in Australia, Japan, and Italy. The sound—which has been described as mimicking massive thunder or cannon fire—has been chalked up to everything from meteors entering the atmosphere to gas escaping from vents in the Earth's surface (or the gas exploding after being trapped underwater as a result of biological decay) to earthquakes, military aircraft, underwater caves collapsing, and even a possible byproduct of solar and/or earth magnetic activity. 

8. UVB-76

UVB-76, also known as "The Buzzer,” has been showing up on shortwave radios for decades. It broadcasts at 4625 kHz and after repeated buzzing noises, a voice occasionally reads numbers and names in Russian. The source and purpose has never been determined.

9. 52-Hertz whale

This animal, also known as the loneliest whale in the world, calls at a highly unusual 52-hertz, well above the normal frequency. Scientists have been listening to 52-Hertz for decades, and recently, filmmakers raised $400,000 on Kickstarter to seek the mammal out. It should be noted that the fundraiser reached its goal through the help of Leonardo DiCaprio, another mysterious beast.

How Did 6 Feet Become the Standard Grave Depth?

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It all started with the plague: The origins of “six feet under” come from a 1665 outbreak in England. As the disease swept the country, the mayor of London literally laid down the law about how to deal with the bodies to avoid further infections. Among his specifications—made in “Orders Conceived and Published by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London, Concerning the Infection of the Plague”—was that “all the graves shall be at least six feet deep.”

The law eventually fell out of favor both in England and its colonies. Modern American burial laws vary from state to state, though many states simply require a minimum of 18 inches of soil on top of the casket or burial vault (or two feet of soil if the body is not enclosed in anything). Given an 18-inch dirt buffer and the height of the average casket (which appears to be approximately 30 inches), a grave as shallow as four feet would be fine.

A typical modern burial involves a body pumped full of chemical preservatives sealed inside a sturdy metal casket, which is itself sealed inside a steel or cement burial vault. It’s less of a hospitable environment for microbes than the grave used to be. For untypical burials, though—where the body isn’t embalmed, a vault isn’t used, or the casket is wood instead of metal or is foregone entirely—even these less strict burial standards provide a measure of safety and comfort. Without any protection, and subjected to a few years of soil erosion, the bones of the dearly departed could inconveniently and unexpectedly surface or get too close to the living, scaring people and acting as disease vectors. The minimum depth helps keep the dead down where they belong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article originally appeared in 2012.

One Good Reason Not to Hold in a Fart: It Could Leak Out of Your Mouth

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iStock/grinvalds

The next time you hold in a fart for fear of being heard by polite company, just remember this: It could leak out of your mouth instead of your butt. Writing on The Conversation, University of Newcastle nutrition and dietetics professor Clare Collins explains that pent-up gas can pass through your gut wall and get reabsorbed into your circulation. It's then released when you exhale, whether you like it or not.

“Holding on too long means the build up of intestinal gas will eventually escape via an uncontrollable fart,” Collins writes. In this case, the fart comes out of the wrong end. Talk about potty mouth.

A few brave scientists have investigated the phenomenon of flatulence. In one study, 10 healthy volunteers were fed half a can of baked beans in addition to their regular diets and given a rectal catheter to measure their farts over a 24-hour period. Although it was a small sample, the results were still telling. Men and women let loose the same amount of gas, and the average number of “flatus episodes” (a single fart, or series of farts) during that period was eight. Another study of 10 people found that high-fiber diets led to fewer but bigger farts, and a third study found that gases containing sulphur are the culprit of the world’s stinkiest farts. Two judges were tapped to rate the odor intensity of each toot, and we can only hope that they made it out alive.

Scientific literature also seems to support Collins’s advice to “let it go.” A 2010 paper on “Methane and the gastrointestinal tract” says methane, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases that are produced in the intestinal tract are mostly eliminated from the body via the anus or “expelled from the lungs.” Holding it in can lead to belching, flatulence, bloating, and pain. And in some severe cases, pouches can form along the wall of the colon and get infected, causing diverticulitis.

So go ahead and let it rip, just like nature intended—but maybe try to find an empty room first.

[h/t CBS Philadelphia]

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