“The eerie sound known as the Taos Hum will creep you out!”
The odd resonance known as the Taos Hum is perceived by some residents of that scenic town on the fringe of the Southern Rockies in north-central New Mexico, and has “cousins” around the globe. No single explanation accounts for all incidences of these mysterious sounds, but numerous theories abound.
The Taos Hum gained major prominence in the 1990s, when numerous residents began complaining of the odd auditory stimulation. The concern was intense enough for Congress to direct a formal investigation, initiated in 1993 and involving the University of New Mexico, Sandia National Laboratories, the Phillips Air Force Laboratory, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Surveys of better than 1,000 Taos-area residents suggested around 2 percent of the population perceived the hum. The noise tended to register between 30 and 80Hz. Some of the affected residents reported that the hum commenced suddenly, suggestive of a machine being turned on—a trait that has fueled speculation that it originates from some covert military testing. (Los Alamos is roughly 60 miles away, to the southwest.)
“Hearers” of the hum claim a variety of symptoms, ranging from basic annoyance to bloody noses, headaches, insomnia and imbalance.
Mysterious resonances akin to the Taos Hum are known from other parts of America and widely scattered international locations, such as Europe and Australia. Complaints from Britain have been particularly chronic. A 2011 BBC news story documented the phenomenon in a Durham community called Woodland, and noted infamous historical incidences in Scotland and Bristol. In 2006, a scientist in New Zealand captured a possible mystery hum at 56Hz on Auckland’s North Shore, and there are other purported recordings in existence.
Beyond secret government experiments, any number of explanations for the Taos Hum and its international cousins has been set forth at one time or another. Tinnitus—a condition of the inner ear, which manifests as whines, buzzes, and other noises heard unprompted by an external stimulus—is often mentioned as a possible cause. The effect, however, can be provoked by any number of triggers that are difficult to definitively trace. Scientists have also suggested some people are simply more acutely aware of low-resonance sounds of standard source that most do not hear. Some believe the modern profusion of electronic devices may sustain such subtle background murmurs.
Natural earth phenomena are sometimes pinpointed: Volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawaii may make such noises, as can the surging of ocean waves against the seafloor—which could potentially reverberate widely—and the sloughing of wind over varied topography, such as sand dunes.
Given the hum’s geographic range, it’s not unlikely that numerous factors may be at play. In many cases, ears particularly sensitive to background sound waves probably explain the selectiveness of its detection; in others, some physical force, whether pounding wave or hissing wind, might be to blame, courtesy of a particular set of atmospheric conditions. Until some irrefutable answer emerges—and it may never do so—it’s little surprise some turn to conspiracy theories or the supernatural to explain the dogged, sometimes obtrusive Taos—or Sydney, or Woodland—Hum.
BBC News. “Who, What, Why: Why is ‘the Hum’ Such a Mystery?” BBC News
Magazine. 13 June 2011.
Hutcheon, Stephen. “Mystery Humming Sound Captured.” The Sydney Morning Herald.
17 November 2006.
Wechter, Eric B. (ed.) Fodor’s New Mexico. New York: Fodor’s Travel. 2009.