When residents of Grimsby started contacting the UK’s This is Grimsby with reports that something unusual was going on in the sky in the afternoon over their town, it may have seemed obvious that the culprit was the Royal Air Force conducting flight tests involving jets breaking the sound barrier and creating a sonic boom. But after an announcement by the RAF, and additional reports worldwide of similar phenomena, it seems the answer may not be quite so simple.
Sonic booms are not unusual when the military is conducting tests involving faster than sound aircraft. When jets reach speeds surpassing 761 miles per hour, they create an effect known as a sonic boom where force is projected in a cascade outward the speed of sound. Jets create these large sonic booms when they pass overhead so that by the time you hear their approach they have already passed by – depending on their altitude. Of course super sonic aircraft are generally closely watched, but according to the RAF when witnesses started hearing something cracking in the air above them it was apparently not one of their own aircraft.
So if it wasn’t one of the RAF’s aircraft what could it have been? It’s not unheard of for atmospheric conditions to cause a sonic boom to travel farther than it would ordinarily, but if this were the case it would have likely been heard between wherever the aircraft was actually flying and the town itself – meaning a long distance sonic boom would have several witnesses indicating this was the case. Instead, it seems the sound was localized just over Grimsby where windows rattled and it was claimed that even cars shook in its wake.
Of course there are other explanations leading all the way from the semi-mundane to the extraordinary. On the more mundane end of the spectrum it is possible that the sound could be related to solar activity which has indirectly puffed up the Earth’s atmosphere helping with the many bits of space debris hurtling around the planet. A report by solar weather watcher site Space Weather indicated that the increase in solar activity including ultraviolet radiation has actually caused the Earth to start pulling down several of the smaller bits of catalogued space debris – a welcome change for NASA who noted that in 2011 the amount of space debris actually saw a net decrease rather than increasing contrary to popular opinion and several space related disasters. Is it possible this debris could have been propelled fast enough to cause a sonic boom?
Other explanations include spy craft being tested by a number of military agencies – including the RAF who then would be required to keep the tests secret. With increased tension around the world it’s likely interest in supersonic aircraft technologies will increase significantly. And if this is the case it may be quite likely that we will be hearing more from the skies that demands explanation.