Without precedent or warning, a loud boom sounding like a major piece of artillery frightens your normally quiet neighborhood. Houses shake and dishes rattle. The jolt is singular, percussive — and ominous. Later the TV news reports that the boom was heard over many miles, but nothing exploded. No supersonic aircraft flew by. Someone saw yellow light in the sky.
Residents of New York’s Rockland and Westchester Counties, not far from New York City, experienced this in March 2009. It could have been a rare, beach ball sized meteor that disintegrated before it hit the ground. Meteors are certainly supersonic and have been known to make loud sonic booms. A bounty hunter offered $10,000 for a piece of the meteorite.
But the meteor theory blew up a couple days later. Another loud boom in the same area jolted people awake at 5:15 am. Nanuet resident Keith Wallenstein said of the second boom. “The house was shaking. It sounded like someone had flown an F-16 over the house. If it was thunder, it had to be right on the house. [But] I know a bunch of people who heard it within 3 to 4 or 5 miles away.”
By now you may be thinking the military was up to something after all. They’d be mum about it, wouldn’t they?
Eric Heller, a theoretical physicist and chemist specializing in waves of all kinds, explains that while loud sounds like this have troubled people throughout history and are often explained away by mythology and conspiracy, they are usually caused by small, but highly accelerated movements in the ground.
“Oddly, the surface does not need to move very far nor very fast to launch exceedingly loud sound resembling cannon fire or a sonic boom. What it does need is a lot of acceleration. But how can something have huge acceleration, yet not wind up moving very far or very fast?”
Why You Hear What You Hear