What Is Causing the Taos Hum?
Taos Pueblo. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)
The small town of Taos, New Mexico, isn’t famous for celebrities like Julia Roberts and Dennis Hopper who have called it home. That spotlight has been stolen by a mysterious sound, known as the “Taos Hum” which seems to defy explanation. While there have been a number of theories, including UFOs and government experiments, investigations have failed to positively identify the source of the hum.
First detected in the early 1990s, the hum is only heard by a small percentage of the population of Taos. However, it seems to be consistent as hearers report it occurring on a weekly basis. It also seems to be widespread as it is reportedly heard throughout the town. The sound of the hum has been compared to that of an idling diesel truck or high-powered bass audio. Due to the frequent complaints, the New Mexico delegation stepped in 1993 and an investigation was initiated.
A professor of engineering at the University of New Mexico named Joe Mullins conducted the investigation. Mullins began the investigation by setting up specialized equipment and asking ten of the alleged hearers to generate a sound which matched the hum. Eight of them were able to create a sound which matched what they were hearing. However, the carrier frequencies of the sounds generated ranged from 32 Hz to 80Hz. Test results suggested that the hearers were not all hearing the same sound.
Equipment was also set up in the home of Bob and Catanya Saltzman as well as the Taos golf course in order to obtain acoustic, geodynamic, magnetic, and electromagnetic measurements. It was initially suspected that the hum originated from the strong harmonic component of the 60 Hz power grid surrounding Taos. However, little trace of the component could be found in the area where hearers stated the hum to be most intense. Further tests ruled out Schumann resonances, which are created by lightning-induced electromagnetic radiation trapped between the ionosphere and Earth. They also ruled out the seismic activity as the source of the hum.
One suspected source of the hum was the US Navy ELF stations in the Michigan peninsula and Wisconsin. However, a study of the 65 to 75 Hz region of the electromagnetic spectrum indicated that it was unlikely to emit a sound above the noise level. Having failed to find an external source of the hum, researchers began to consider an internal one. So the next step in the investigations was to look towards the hearers themselves as the source of the hum.
A survey of the residents of Taos indicated that at least two percent of the population could hear the hum. Of the approximately 8,000 residents of the area, 1,400 responded to the survey, and 161 of the respondents claimed to hear the hum. While that may seem to be a large number of people to be hearing a nonexistent sound, it seems that it is not that unusual for one’s ears to create their own noises in a phenomenon called spontaneous otoacoustic emissions. These noises are very subtle and usually drowned out by background noise, but they are the reason why silence is often anything but silent.
Another possibility is that the hum is an auditory hallucination. These are likewise not that unusual and are often caused by common psychological and physiological processes. This theory would explain why the hearers’ descriptions of the hum do not always match and why some hearers continued to hear the hum even after moving away from the area.