Mysteries, Oddities, and Everything Strange: Taos Hum

Bridget Vaughan, Staff Writer

Taos Hum: Not Just Tinnitus

Silence is always a bit awkward. A lack of words or noises brings a strange aura to a room. Isolated silence is alright, but when people are around, it creates a void in a potential interaction. Fortunately, those who hate the hole of noise have the potential to live in a location where noise is almost constant. It isn’t even a man made phenomenon! In Taos, New Mexico, residents have to live with a never ending hum coming from their surroundings. The origins of this noise are almost completely unknown, and this small town isn’t even the only one suffering from a barrage of noise 24/7.

What is the Taos Hum exactly? Well, to put it simply, it’s a hum in Taos, New Mexico. A study completed in the 1990s in the town found that around 2% of residents were subject to a constant barrage of noise. There was no gender difference in the noise, but its range was reported to be around 30 miles outside of the town and impact mostly middle-aged residents. This occurrence was not out of the ordinary in any way, as almost two decades earlier there had been various reports all across the country of people who were forced to listen to frustrating frequencies. The noise reports were most serious early in the morning with clear weather.

Those who heard the noise described it as being similar to a diesel truck or E-flat note. The noise was so pervasive that a team of researchers gathered at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1993 in order to reach the bottom of this case. They interviewed those who claimed to hear the noise and brought expensive equipment to examine potential sources. The people they interviewed claimed the possibility of UFOs or other supernatural causes, but the scientists were unable to gather any information to further their case.

Although the Taos Hum is the most popular example of an unexplainable, unwavering noise, situations like it have occurred all throughout the world. Towns in New Zealand, Canada, England, and Germany have all documented similar occurrences of a low frequency drumming on residents’ eardrums. 

So what caused this Taos Hum in the first place? David Baguley, an audiologist, claims that people were so focused on the background noise that existed in their everyday lives that they began to associate it with a strange phenomenon. He experimented with relaxation and focus techniques so that residents could lessen or completely eliminate the sound, which worked in some situations. Another possible explanation is the use of technology to create the sound. The hum that occurred in West Seattle came from a vacuum pump that helped transport cargo from ships to the ground. One that happened in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was sourced from a massive generator in an electrical field. Others blame the United States’ universal airplane-submarine communication system, TACAMO, to be at fault.

Another very possible cause is that of tinnitus. A person with tinnitus constantly hears noise in their ears, most commonly ringing, that is usually difficult to eliminate. It is caused by constant exposure to loud sounds, which will likely become a problem in the near future as people consistently use headphones and speakers at loud volumes to listen to music or watch TV. Many claim the sound is more intense while they are inside their homes or when they seek out noise-canceling devices, which would make sense as the noise comes exclusively from inside a person’s head. 

Other less significant theories include the midshipman fish’s mating call, a natural stream of noise generated by humans known as spontaneous otoacoustic emission, and a jet stream. Regardless, the legend of the noise has been featured in TV shows like Unsolved Mysteries, X-Files, and Criminal Minds to name a few. It has been passed around as an urban legend in towns with the noise and those without as one of the strangest occurrences known to modern suburbia. 

Although many of us enjoy the social scene or hanging out in crowded places, those who are forced to exist in the presence of this hum might disagree. In this case, silence might be the preferred option after all.