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Infrasonic Symphony

The greatest sounds never heard

By
2:55pm, January 3, 2004

"Let me start off with a riddle," says NASA scientist Allan J. Zuckerwar. In his office in Hampton, Va., he rattles off items as dissimilar as rhinoceroses, supersonic aircraft, and hurricanes. "Now, what do they have in common?" The answer, Zuckerwar explains, is that each one generates silent infrasound—long sound waves at a frequency below 20 hertz. People can't hear anything below that frequency, probably for good reason. Otherwise, they'd be bombarded by the constant din of wind, the intermittent groaning of Earth, and the occasional distant explosion. But scientists are eavesdropping on volcanoes, avalanches, earthquakes, and meteorites to discern these phenomena's infrasound signatures and see what new information infrasound might reveal.

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