TRTZ no 47 Earth Sounds and Quantum Physics

This weeks show we aim to be looking in a bit more detail about those weird ‘earth sounds’ that have been trending on YouTube and then take a little trip into the world of Quantum Physics to explore some ideas…. no doubt I’ll end up tying myself in knots so will be relying on the guys in the chat rooms to help me out …


But first some news and, by the way, HAPPY VALENTINES DAY…

Penguins Wed

Staff at the Sahnghai Ocean Aquarium decided to put on a show for visitors by setting up a wedding for a loving penguin couple, named Xiaobai and Xiaoxue.

To add to the spectacle, the two Humboldt penguins were carried from their enclosure to the wedding ceremony in a miniature remote-controlled car.

Rather than wedding rings for their flippers, the love-up pair were given flowers to put around their necks.

Give Us A Kiss..

A couple in Thailand have been awarded the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss this Valentine’s Day after locking lips for an exhausting two days.

The kissing marathon kicked off at Thailand’s Pattaya beach town on Sunday, with the winning couple finally parting lips a record 50 hours later.

Competitors could not move from their space of one square metre and were only allowed to drink water and food through a straw.

The rules stated that participants were not allowed to use the toilets in the first three hours of the competition and after that, could only go for a bathroom break if accompanied by a referee.

The previous Guinness World Record for the longest kiss was held by Lakkana and Ekkachai Tiranarat, a Thai couple from Bangkok at 46 hours 24 minutes and 9 seconds.

Moving away from the Valentine Theme…

An ornamental rock that lay on the doorstep of a house for at least 80 years has just been revealed as the biggest meteorite ever found in Britain.

The space rock, which weighs 200lb and is 1.6ft long, had been outside a house at Wilsford cum Lake, near Amesbury, Wilts, since at least the early 1900s.

Experts who previously examined the rock assumed that it had been brought to England, having landed elsewhere several thousand years ago.

But researchers now believe it may have landed in Britain 30,000 years ago. It is four times bigger than any other meteorite found in this country.

400-year-old witchcraft trial resumes in Germany

The trial of a woman burnt at the stake 400 years ago for witchcraft resumed in Germany on Monday in an effort to clear the woman’s name.

Katharina Henot suffered her fiery fate in Cologne in 1627 after being found guilty of practicing black magic. Arrested, and tortured to such an extent that the right-handed woman had to scrawl her last letter of defence with her left hand, she was eventually paraded through the city in an open cart before being tied to a stake and burnt.

Now the panel on the city council whose predecessors found her guilty of witchcraft hundreds of years ago will review the evidence. It is suspected that Henot, head of the city’s post office, fell foul of a deadly game of political intrigue orchestrated by her rivals and detractors.

The fact that Henot’s name has a chance of exoneration is due largely to the efforts of Hartmut Hegeler, an evangelical pastor and religious education teacher, who has championed the woman’s cause in Cologne.

Earth Sounds

A recent episode of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe took on the questions raised by the numerous YouTube videos about strange, earth noises. Now I know we mentioned these a week or two ago and for the most part questioned the authenticity and (or)  the interpretation of what was being heard.

In the recent SGU episode Rebecca Watson explored in detail some of the sounds appearing on the YouTube videos and, using a piece of free audio software, managed to present a very convincing argument for the fraudulent nature of the videos.

After this excellent review I feel even more confident about my brief, perhaps dismissive comments in TRTZ no 45.


After the recent ‘earth noise’  being recorded around the world in the last few months, it seems logical to take a look back at the other mysterious sounds that remain unspecified, starting with the infamous Bloop.

This sound was repeatedly recorded during summer, 1997 by the Eastern Equatorial Pacific autonomous hydrophone array (Deployed in May 1996 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for long-term monitoring of seismic events on the East Pacific Rise, though it was originally designed to detect Soviet submarines), and was picked up to some degree or another by many other systems over 5000km away.

The NOAA website explains that the sound is unusual because it ‘…was of sufficient amplitude to be heard on multiple sensors, at a range of over 5,000 km.’

It seems to have originated somewhere near 50oS; 100oW: about 1750 km west of Chile in the South Pacific.

The water in this area is very deep with an average depth of around 4300 metres as well as being very isolated.

The version of the sound released by the NOAA has been sped up x16 so that we can hear it better (it is a very low frequency) though it is possible to hear slower versions, or versions closer to the original speed on the internet.

The location of the bloop resulted in quite a few references to HP Lovecrafts’ story of Cthulu as it is approximately 950 nautical miles (1760km) from his described location of R’lyeh, a sunken extra-dimensional city where Cthulhu awakens.

The possibility of the bloop being biological in origin is still hotly debated.

Some have suggested a colossal squid as the perpetrator of the bloop but while we know very little about this particular elusive creature, generally speaking it is not known that any cephalopod has the gas-filled noise-making apparatus necessary to produce such a sound.

The problem with the animal theory is that nothing we know of has such noise-making capability and that to produce a sound so loud a creature would have to house organs far larger than a blue whale.

The possibility of a monstrous beast lurking in the depths of the ocean is the theory that is most excitedly circulated by the media, though this still raises many questions.  If this is an animal, while did it only vocalise a few times in that one year?

Some theorise that a creature could normally dwell in the deeper parts of the ocean that we have yet to discover and that these noises were picked up after it rose to an unusually shallow area for a brief period of time, but while this is also an interesting theory, it results in further questions too.  If it exists, why might it have come within earshot in the first place?

It has also been pointed out that while the bloop could be vaguely likened to an animal sound, it also shares many differences.

Compared to the sound produced by a whale, the bloop is too indistinct a noise to draw enough similarities, as whales have a clearly definable ‘voice.’

Other theories outside the realm of monster sea-dwellers include earthquakes and volcanos.

The sound of an earthquake has been criticised comparatively as it generally has a wave-shaped spectrogram, which is very different to the bloops’ jarring, sharp edged block at the same speed (x16).

A volcanic eruption has similar problems, being indistinctly patterned on a spectrogram when compared to the bloops’ visible pattern.

Thusly, nobody is quite sure what made this noise.  The evidence for one thing or another is often too conflicting to come to anything definite.

Additionally, it’s not the only unidentified something heard by the array.

There have been several other odd noises heard over the years.

Julia: Recorded on March 1st, 1999 and is loud to be heard over the entire array lasting approximately 15 seconds.  The sound is severely band limited.  The approximate origin is 1999JD60 2218Z near 15S, 98W.

Train: Recorded on March 5th, 1997 and rising to a steadyish frequency.

Slowdown:  Recorded May 19th, 1997.  The sound slowly descends in frequency over 7 minutes and was loud enough to be heard on three sensors at 95W, and 8S, 0, and 8N, at a range of nearly 2,000 km.  The NOAA say that ‘This type of signal has not been heard before or since. It yields a general location near 15oS; 115oW.’

Whistle: Recorded July 7th, 1997 at 8oN, 110oW, 0730Z.  This one was not detected on any other hydrophone and part of the spectrogram is attributed to the strumming of mid-depth mooring, but the rest of the sound is unknown.

Upsweep:  This sound recorded in August, 1991.  This was loud enough to be recorded throughout the Pacific and seems to come and go according to the season, reaching a peak in spring and autumn.  The NOAA say that ‘The source can be located at 54o S, 140oW near the location of inferred volcanic seismicity, but the origin of the sound is unresolved. The overall source level has been declining since 1991 but the sounds can still be detected on NOAA’s equatorial sound recording arrays.’ Additionally this has been tracked to possibly being an undersea south pacific mountain that had been previously undetected as being ‘live’.

Sea Sounds : NOAA


Quantum Phsyics

Quantum Physics

The field of Quantum physics is difficult to understand given its intricacy and its almost metaphysical sounding basics.

Niels Bohr said, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.” And J J Thomson, the discoverer of the electron, said “I was told long afterwards by a distinguished physicist who had been present at my lecture that he thought I had been pulling their leg.”

General or classic physics deals with what can be observed at the macroscopic level, that is, what is visible to the naked eye or dealing with large units of measurement.

Quantum physics developed from a need to fill the gaps left by the limitations of classic physics and therefore attempts to describe the actions of particles such as atoms and particles smaller than atoms.

Additionally, there were thoughts that there needs to be a separate field of study regarding classic physics and quantum physics because larger bodies do not behave in the same way as small ones.  Particles of this size appear to be a law unto themselves.

The main ideas put forward by quantum theory are difficult to summarise, but could be thought of as follows:

1) That the nature of energy is not ever continuous or flowing, but consists of discrete ‘units’.

2) The elementary particles (The particles of which there is no known substructure – they are not made up of something smaller) can behave both like particles and also like waves.

3) The movement of aforementioned particles is random.

4) It is not possible to simultaneously predict the position and the momentum of a particle as precisely predicting one will offset the precision of predicting the other.

5) Our world and the atomic world are not alike.

Grasping the basic principles of quantum theory is usually done by discussing three experiments: The ‘Double Slit’ Experiment, Schrödinger’s ‘Cat-in-the-Box’ Experiment and the ’EPR Paradox’.

The Double Slit experiment was originally designed to illustrate whether light travelled as particles or waves and is easiest to understand using a great deal of simile and metaphor.

The first part of the experiment is best explained by picturing the photons involved as bullets and the screen with the two slits in it as a brick wall large enough to fire said bullets through with a second wall directly behind the first where the bullets will land.

After firing some bullets through the holes you would expect the receiving wall to have two clusters of bullet holes in it, therefore, if this is the result with photons then we can say they behave as particles.

Next we have to imagine the brick walls in a full water tank and the beginnings of a wave spreading over its surface.

As the wave reaches the wall with the two holes in it, it would begin to spread out again from these two points either in step with each other or in phase, eventually interfering with one another.

Furthermore, where both waves are raising the surface of the water upward there is a significantly pronounced crest; where one wave is trying to create a crest and the other is trying to create a trough the two cancel each other out and the water level is relatively flat: Destructive and constructive interference.

With this in mind, if light travels as waves, the pattern on the second wall would be an interference pattern of light and dark bands while particles would appear as two spots.

This experiment has been performed on numerous occasions with the same results which, unfortunately, make the physics of these quantum particles even harder to comprehend!

With the aforementioned setup, that is, with both slits open, the pattern we’d end up with implies that light acts as a wave – a banded interference pattern, but it doesn’t end there and isn’t that simple.

If we repeat the experiment and fire individual photons instead (So that photons pass through the hole one at a time) we’d expect the bullet scenario – a pattern of two spots – as the photons cannot go through both holes at the same time.

After the firing of millions of these individual photons, we actually still get the interference pattern, which is baffling to say the least.

Can each photon ‘know’ that both holes are open?  Individually placing itself at a specific point on the wall so as to build a pattern of interference when there can’t be one?

To further confuse anyone who has managed to keep up so far, a repeat of the experiment again with only ONE hole open results in the bullet hole pattern, but as soon as the second hole is opened then the interference pattern begins to develop again.

If detectors are used to record the number of photons passing through the holes at any one time or if they are passing through both at the same time, the experiment becomes yet more peculiar.

The setup would involve the ‘recorder’ taking note of which hole the photon goes through but still lets it pass on to the screen.

The results record a photon passing through either one hole or the other and now, the bullet pattern develops, not the interference pattern!

Only one detector is needed as opposed to detectors at both holes and if a photon passes through the detectorless hole it appears to ‘know’ whether or not the other hole is open and if it is being observed.

If there is no detector at either hole, we get the interference pattern suggesting that it acts like a wave, but otherwise we get the bullet pattern, suggesting it acts like a particle.

‘When we are watching the holes we can’t catch out the photon going through both at once, it will only go through one. When we are not watching it will go through both at the same time.’

The experiment thusly demonstrates that each photon starts out as a single particle, arrives at the detectors as such, yet appears to have passed through both holes at the same time, interfered with itself and worked out where to land on the screen to create a wave-like pattern.

Thusly, we can come to the highly scientific conclusion that photons are weird!

This experiment has also been tried with electrons, which are different to photons in that they have an electric charge, have a mass and travel at varying speeds, with the same results.

This led to the Copenhagen Interpretation from Niels Bohr: the particle is what you measure it to be.  Therefore, when it looks like a particle, that’s what it is.  When it looks like a wave, that’s what it is at that point.


Therefore, it is technically meaningless to attribute any properties or existence to anything that has not actually been measured or, in simpler terms, nothing is ‘real’ unless it is observed.

Just to summarise how difficult quantum physics is to really quantify, this interpretation is the one that is still used, nobody can quite think of a better way of looking at it.

The discussion of the Copenhagen interpretation leads neatly to Schrödinger’s cat experiment; one that is still debated about by quantum physicists to this day.

If the Copenhagen interpretation says that reality is what is measured, then measuring device in question is also not real until it too is measured resulting in the measurement problem.  The Copenhagen interpretation is something of a paradox.

Schrödinger used his experiment to illustrate how incomplete a view of the world quantum physics really gives us.

Picture a box within which is a Geiger counter, a bottle of cyanide, a cat and a source of some nature of radioactivity.

The Geiger counter needs to be on for long enough for the chances of the radioactive source decaying being 50/50.

If the radioactive item decays, the Geiger counter detects the particle, crushes the bottle of cyanide and kills the cat.  If not, the cat is fine.

We cannot observe outside the box whether or not the cat has died, not until we open it and observe the result, therefore, what state is the cat in between the geiger counter being activated and you opening the box?

Thusly, until we open the box, technically the cat is simultaneously alive and dead.

Just to allay any fears, this experiment has never actually been carried out!

An observer could not observe what processes preceded the discovery of the dead/alive cat as observation prior to this would of course defeat the object of the whole thing.

This leads to many conflicting ideas about the behavior of subatomic particles:  1) That your consciousness or awareness affects the behavior of particles, 2) The universe is constantly being split into many many many parallel universes, 3) Particles travel backwards in time as well as forwards and thus are everywhere at once.

There are a lot of theories, new ones appearing every year, but generally speaking they fall into one of those categories.

It also raises the question of what a conscious observer is, given that, technically, the cat could be called an ‘observer’ to some degree.

What happens to the cat is different depending on which of these you feel explains things best.

If you go for the Many Worlds theory, then it’s dead in half the universes that come about the result of the experiment and alive in the other half.

If you follow the theories of Richard Feynman who came up with a ‘Time reversibility’ theory, an electron travelling from one point to another can bump into a photon which sends it back in space AND time (Hooray for the fourth dimension).

Then it can bump into another photon that sends it forwards again but in a different direction, therefore, it can actually be in two places at the same time.

In this scenario, the cat is simultaneously dead and alive after all.

 The Koch Snowflake and Fractal Maths

The closer we zoom into this image, the more we recognise that it is made up of identical ‘units’ which simply get smaller and smaller.

This kind of ‘fractal geometry’  is seen widely in nature …



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