Mysterious Hum Driving People Crazy Around the World

By Marc Lallanilla, Assistant Editor

It creeps in slowly in the dark of night, and once inside, it almost never goes away.

It's known as the Hum, a steady, droning sound that's heard in places as disparate as Taos, N.M.; Bristol, England; and Largs, Scotland.

But what causes the Hum, and why it only affects a small percentage of the population in certain areas, remain a mystery, despite a number of scientific investigations. [The Top 10 Unexplained Phenomena]

Reports started trickling in during the 1950s from people who had never heard anything unusual before; suddenly, they were bedeviled by an annoying, low-frequency humming, throbbing or rumbling sound.

The cases seem to have several factors in common: Generally, the Hum is only heard indoors, and it's louder at night than during the day. It's also more common in rural or suburban environments; reports of a hum are rare in urban areas, probably because of the steady background noise in crowded cities.

Who hears the Hum?

Only about 2 percent of the people living in any given Hum-prone area can hear the sound, and most of them are ages 55 to 70, according to a 2003 study by acoustical consultant Geoff Leventhall of Surrey, England.

Most of the people who hear the Hum (sometimes referred to as "hearers" or "hummers") describe the sound as similar to a diesel engine idling nearby. And the Hum has driven virtually every one of them to the point of despair. [Video: Listen to 6 Spooky Sounds]

"It's a kind of torture; sometimes, you just want to scream," retiree Katie Jacques of Leeds, England, told the BBC. Leeds is one of several places in Great Britain where the Hum has recently appeared.

"It's worst at night," Jacques said. "It's hard to get off to sleep because I hear this throbbing sound in the background … You're tossing and turning, and you get more and more agitated about it."

Being dismissed as crackpots or whiners only exacerbates the distress for these complainants, most of whom have perfectly normal hearing. Sufferers complain of headaches, nausea, dizziness, nosebleeds and sleep disturbances. At least one suicide in the United Kingdom has been blamed on the Hum, the BBC reports. [The Top 10 Spooky Sleep Disorders]

The Hum zones

Bristol, England, was one of the first places on Earth where the Hum was reported. In the 1970s, about 800 people in the coastal city reported hearing a steady thrumming sound, which was eventually blamed on vehicular traffic and local factories working 24-hour shifts.

Another famous hum occurs near Taos, N.M. Starting in spring 1991, residents of the area complained of a low-level rumbling noise. A team of researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico, Sandia National Laboratories and other regional experts were unable to identify the source of the sound.

Windsor, Ontario, is another Hum hotspot. Researchers from the University of Windsor and Western University in London, Ontario, were recently given a grant to analyze the Windsor Hum and determine its cause.

Researchers also have been investigating the Hum in Bondi, a seaside area of Sydney, Australia, for several years, to no avail. "It sends people around here crazy — all you can do is put music on to block it out. Some people leave fans on," one resident told the Daily Telegraph.

Back in the United States, the Kokomo Hum was isolated in a 2003 study financed by the Indiana city's municipal government. The investigation revealed that two industrial sites — one a Daimler Chrysler plant — were producing noise at specific frequencies. Despite noise-abatement measures, some residents continue to complain of the Hum.

What causes the Hum?

Most researchers investigating the Hum express some confidence that the phenomenon is real, and not the result of mass hysteria or hearers' hypochondria (or extraterrestrials beaming signals to Earth from their spaceships).

As in the case of the Kokomo Hum, industrial equipment is usually the first suspected source of the Hum. In one instance, Leventhall was able to trace the noise to a neighboring building's central heating unit.

Other suspected sources include high-pressure gas lines, electrical power lines, wireless communication devices or other sources. But only in a few cases has a Hum been linked to a mechanical or electrical source.

There's some speculation that the Hum could be the result of low-frequency electromagnetic radiation, audible only to some people. And there are verified cases in which individuals have particular sensitivities to signals outside the normal range of human hearing.

Medical experts are quick to point out that tinnitus (the perception of sound when no external noise is present) is a likely cause, but repeated testing has found that many hearers have normal hearing and no occurrences of tinnitus.

Environmental factors have also been blamed, including seismic activity such as microseisms — very faint, low-frequency earth tremors that can be generated by the action of ocean waves.

Other hypotheses, including military experiments and submarine communications, have yet to bear any fruit. For now, hearers of the Hum have to resort to white-noise machines and other devices to reduce or eliminate the annoying noise.

Leventhall, who recommends that some hearers turn to cognitive-behavioral therapy to relieve the symptoms caused by the Hum, isn't confident that the puzzle will be solved anytime soon.

"It's been a mystery for 40 years, so it may well remain one for a lot longer," Leventhall told the BBC.

Follow Marc Lallanilla on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.com.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • McConnell releases impeachment trial rules, sparking new outcry from Democrats
    Yahoo News

    McConnell releases impeachment trial rules, sparking new outcry from Democrats

    WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released the rules for a Senate impeachment trial on Monday evening, the night before Republicans in the chamber are set to approve them by what is expected to be a party-line vote. The most noteworthy detail: Republicans will leave the House impeachment managers only two days to make their opening arguments. In the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, House Republicans arguing the case against the Democratic president were given three days.

  • Associated Press

    Advocates: Honduran mother, children deported to Guatemala

    A Honduran mother and her two children who had been hospitalized have been deported to Guatemala under a Trump administration policy of sending some people seeking asylum in the U.S. to third countries, advocates for the mother said Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez did not rule on their request prior to Tuesday, the day the government had said it intended to remove the mother and her two children, ages 1 and 6, under a plan to send families to different countries so they can seek asylum elsewhere. The 1-year-old was diagnosed with the flu, while the 6-year-old had diarrhea and a fever, according to Dr. Amy Cohen, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Every Last One.

  • Dutch farm dad 'beat bad spirits out of kids'
    AFP

    Dutch farm dad 'beat bad spirits out of kids'

    A Dutchman isolated six of his children in a remote farmhouse from birth and beat them to drive out "bad spirits," prosecutors told a court on Tuesday. Gerrit Jan van D., 67, subjected the youngsters who were found on the farm in the village of Ruinerwold in October to "very serious physical punishment" when he thought they had been made "unclean". One child was tied up by his hands and feet as punishment, while another child was forced to spend an entire summer in a doghouse at the farm in northern Drenthe province, prosecutors said.

  • Forget North Korea or Pakistan: This U.S. Ally Has a Nuclear Arsenal That Could Kill Billions
    The National Interest

    Forget North Korea or Pakistan: This U.S. Ally Has a Nuclear Arsenal That Could Kill Billions

    The United Kingdom maintains a fleet of four ballistic missile submarines with the ability to devastate even the largest of countries. This fleet came into being after its ally, the United States, canceled a key weapon system that would have been the cornerstone of London's nuclear arsenal. Fifty years later, the UK's missile submarine force is the sole custodian of the country's nuclear weapons, providing a constant deterrent against nuclear attack.

  • Russia Tightens Control Over Chinese Border on Coronavirus Fears
    Bloomberg

    Russia Tightens Control Over Chinese Border on Coronavirus Fears

    Russian authorities strengthened controls at border crossings with China to prevent a deadly strain of coronavirus from being brought into the country, the state-run RIA Novosti news service reported, citing acting Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova. The mysterious virus has caused at least six deaths and infected a number of medical workers in China, a sign the illness can be passed from person to person. China raised the number of confirmed cases to 291 on Tuesday and its National Health Commission has warned there's a risk of the virus spreading further.

  • You Should Get an Electric Fireplace
    Architectural Digest

    You Should Get an Electric Fireplace

    Who couldn't use a little more ambiance? Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

  • Taiwan calls on China to share 'correct' virus information
    Reuters

    Taiwan calls on China to share 'correct' virus information

    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called on China on Wednesday to share "correct" information about a new coronavirus and for the World Health Organisation (WHO) not to exclude Taiwan from collaboration on the outbreak for political reasons. Authorities have confirmed more than 400 cases of the virus in China, most of them in the central city of Wuhan where the virus first appeared at the end of 2019. The virus, which health officials have said can be passed from person to person, has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai, with cases have been confirmed in Thailand, South Korea, Japan, as well as Taiwan.

  • Penn State student allegedly assaulted by 4 fraternity brothers
    CBS News

    Penn State student allegedly assaulted by 4 fraternity brothers

    A student has reported an alleged sexual assault by four Penn State fraternity brothers, university police said Tuesday. The warning to the campus said the sexual assault was submitted at 8:31 a.m. and was reported to have happened at an unknown time on January 15 at the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. "The unknown victim, reported to be a student, disclosed to a third party being sexually assaulted by four unidentified fraternity brothers," the alert said.

  • Amanda Knox posts selfie in old prison uniform as her 'something old' to prepare for wedding
    The Independent

    Amanda Knox posts selfie in old prison uniform as her 'something old' to prepare for wedding

    With just 40 days left until her wedding, like many a bride-to-be, Amanda Knox has a long to-do list to get through before the big day. Ms Knox revealed a unique "something old" in a post on Instagram as she knuckles down to get through the tasks at hand – her old uniform from her time in an Italian prison. It has been nine years since Ms Knox left prison where she served just under four years after being convicted for the 2007 murder of 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher.

  • Iran admits it fired two Russian antiaircraft missiles at a Ukrainian jetliner
    Yahoo News Video

    Iran admits it fired two Russian antiaircraft missiles at a Ukrainian jetliner

    Iran acknowledged on Tuesday that its armed forces fired two Russian antiaircraft missiles at a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed after taking off from Tehran's main airport earlier this month, killing all 176 people onboard.

  • Bloomberg calls for Trump's removal in new impeachment ad
    Associated Press

    Bloomberg calls for Trump's removal in new impeachment ad

    Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg launched a new impeachment-focused television ad Tuesday urging the Senate to remove President Donald Trump from office. The ad will run in 27 states, including states represented by vulnerable Republican senators, and be Bloomberg's only ad on television in the next few days. It comes as the Senate begins its impeachment trial against Trump based on charges he abused his power and obstructed Congress.

  • Man 'intentionally' rammed car into Prius full of teens, killing 3, police say
    USA TODAY

    Man 'intentionally' rammed car into Prius full of teens, killing 3, police say

    A California man allegedly rammed his car into a Toyota Prius with six teenagers inside, killing three of them and injuring the others before fleeing, authorities say. Anurag Chandra, 42, was arrested on three counts of murder after police said he drove his car into the Prius, caused it to hit a tree and then fled, the California Highway Patrol said in a statement. "It was an intentional act," Lt. David Yokley told reporters at a news conference.

  • Hurricane Rudy Strikes Back: Giuliani Hints At Tapes Exposing Parnas 'Lies'
    The National Interest

    Hurricane Rudy Strikes Back: Giuliani Hints At Tapes Exposing Parnas 'Lies'

    Rudy Giuliani on Monday accused his former associate, Lev Parnas, of telling multiple lies during a media tour last week, including about whether Attorney General William Barr was aware of the Trump lawyer's activities related to Ukraine. Giuliani was responding to Parnas's claims in interviews with CNN and MSNBC last week that it was “impossible” that Barr was unaware that Parnas worked closely with Giuliani in 2019 to collect and disseminate information related to Ukraine. Parnas helped Giuliani arrange interviews with former Ukrainian prosecutors regarding Joe and Hunter Biden.

  • Intelligence officials: New ISIS leader is one of its founding members
    The Week

    Intelligence officials: New ISIS leader is one of its founding members

    The Islamic State's new leader is Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi, one of the terrorist organization's founding members, intelligence officials told The Guardian. Last October, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a raid in Syria, and officials said Salbi replaced him just hours after his death. Born to an Iraqi Turkmen family, Salbi has a background as an Islamic scholar, and came up with the ISIS religious rulings authorizing the enslavement of Iraq's Yazidi minority.

  • Russia admits its deadly Zircon hypersonic missile is suffering from 'childhood diseases'
    Business Insider

    Russia admits its deadly Zircon hypersonic missile is suffering from 'childhood diseases'

    Associated Press Russia's deadly Zircon hypersonic missile is apparently suffering from unspecified "childhood diseases," the Russian Navy's top admiral revealed. Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov told RIA Novosti that the weapon is likely still years away from entering service. In February of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted that the developmental missile can hit speeds up to Mach 9 and eliminate targets up to 620 miles away.

  • China says virus cases rise to 440, with 9 deaths
    Reuters

    China says virus cases rise to 440, with 9 deaths

    China's National Health Commission said on Wednesday 440 people in 13 Chinese provinces were confirmed to be infected with a new coronavirus as of Tuesday, with nine deaths, and that there was evidence of respiratory transmission from patient to patient. The number of cases compares with the total of over 300 reported earlier as of Tuesday. Li Bin, vice minister of the commission, also told a media briefing that live animals were not allowed to enter Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the outbreak originated.

  • Tsai urges WHO to include Taiwan after virus case confirmed
    AFP

    Tsai urges WHO to include Taiwan after virus case confirmed

    Taiwan should not be blocked from international bodies such as the World Health Organization, its president said Wednesday, a day after the island confirmed its first case of a SARS-like virus from China. The self-ruled island has found itself blocked from major world bodies under pressure from Beijing, which views Taiwan as its territory and has vowed to one day seize it by force if necessary. The emergence of a new deadly coronavirus in China has highlighted the island's isolated existence, something President Tsai Ing-wen said should change.

  • AOC criticises Democratic Party: ‘We don’t have a left party in the United States’
    The Independent

    AOC criticises Democratic Party: ‘We don’t have a left party in the United States’

    New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez explained that the Democratic party does not represent the political left in the United States, calling the organisation a “centre or centre-conservative” party that “can't even get a floor vote” on nationalising health care. She said: “We can't even get a floor vote on Medicare for All — not even a floor vote that might get doubled down. In an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates during an event honouring Martin Luther King Jr Day, the progressive politician said there are “left members inside the Democratic party” — including freshman congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, among others — ”who are working to try to make that shift happen”.

  • Photos of starving lions in Sudan spark campaign to save them
    CBS News

    Photos of starving lions in Sudan spark campaign to save them

    A movement to save a group of malnourished and mistreated lions in Sudan has gone global. The hashtag #sudananimalrescue began trending over the weekend after photos emerged showing the lions at Khartoum's Al-Qureshi Park. Activist Osman Salih posted images of the big cats on Saturday, writing in a Facebook post that "seeing these animals caged and be treated this way made my blood boil."

  • More US troops under medical evaluation after missile attack
    Associated Press

    More US troops under medical evaluation after missile attack

    Additional U.S. troops have been flown out of Iraq for closer evaluation of potential concussion injuries from the Iranian missile attack of Jan. 8, U.S. defense officials said Tuesday. The exact number of troops flown to Germany was not immediately clear, but officials said it was a small number. Last week, 11 U.S. service members were flown from Iraq to U.S. medical facilities in Germany and Kuwait for further evaluation of concussion-like symptoms.

  • Police: Mom accused of killing her 3 kids said she smothered them while singing
    USA TODAY

    Police: Mom accused of killing her 3 kids said she smothered them while singing

    PHOENIX – The 22-year-old mother accused of killing her three children in Phoenix sang to her children as she smothered them to death, according to court records. Rachel Henry was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder Monday after she admitted to killing her three children under the age of 4, police said. Police initially said her son was 3 years old and her daughters were 2 years old and 7 months old, but a probable cause document released Tuesday night says the girls were 1 year old and 7 months old.

  • Why Iran Should Fear Israel's Tricked Out F-15 Fighter
    The National Interest

    Why Iran Should Fear Israel's Tricked Out F-15 Fighter

    One of the fighter jets most associated with Israel is the F-15 Eagle. The first F-15 touched down in Israel in 1976 and the jet has served continuously—and without defeat—since. In 1998, the Israeli Air Force introduced a new version of the jet, one designed for air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.

  • Feds: White supremacists hoped rally would start civil war
    Yahoo News Video

    Feds: White supremacists hoped rally would start civil war

    A hidden camera captured members of a white supremacist group expressing hope that violence at a gun rights rally in Virginia this week could start a civil war, federal prosecutors said in a court filing Tuesday.

  • The US Air Force recently acquired a new $64 million Gulfstream private jet for VIP government officials — see inside
    Business Insider

    The US Air Force recently acquired a new $64 million Gulfstream private jet for VIP government officials — see inside

    Kentavist Brackin/DVIDS/US Air Force The US Air Force's 89th Airlift Wing provides travel for top government employees including the President of the United States The wing primarily uses a fleet of modified civilian aircraft including the Boeing 747-200 used as Air Force One. Its newest aircraft, a military variant of a Gulfstream G550, was delivered to Joint Base Andrews in December Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. The US Air Force operates a VIP transportation system for the government's top employees.

  • 'I stayed alive to tell' - Auschwitz's dwindling survivors recount horrors of Nazi death camp
    Reuters

    'I stayed alive to tell' - Auschwitz's dwindling survivors recount horrors of Nazi death camp

    A strip of skin tattooed with the Auschwitz death camp number 99288 sits in a silver frame on a shelf in Avraham Harshalom's living room. As the 75th anniversary of the camp's liberation on Jan 27, 1945, nears, Harshalom, 95, is very clear about why he kept it. Harshalom is one of some 200,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel today.