January 30, 2023

Sometime after 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Corissa Bmapper was awakened by a loud bang.

In Colbert, where she lives, it is not uncommon to hear loud noises from the nearby railroad and often from neighbors firing guns. She’s heard loud pops in the area before, but this time it was different, she said.

“You could feel it.”

About 10 minutes later, a second bang came, shaking the windows of their home.

“Last night’s seemed really, really close, like it was in the back yard,” Bmapper said Wednesday. “We hear gunshots a lot, and we’ve heard the gunshots between the two booms, but at 10 a.m. it’s a bit strange.”

Bmapper wasn’t the only person who heard the noise. Hundreds of people said they heard the noise on Spokane News, a Facebook page dedicated to scanner traffic and breaking news in the area. People as far as 40 miles from Colbert said they heard a loud bang around the same time.

Was it aliens? Was it an explosive detonation? Was it a government conspiracy? Speculation about the source of the noise circulated on social media.

As for the truth… Well, they say it’s out there.

The theories

Fairchild Air Force Base spokesman Tech Sgt. Travis Edwards said he was aware of a loud noise that was reported in the area but said it had nothing to do with the base’s operations.

Some suggested online that the noise came from a plane breaking the sound barrier, but Edwards said there is no plane capable of doing so on the base.

“KC-135 Stratotankers are basically flying fuel stations,” he said. “Although they play a really important role in our global reach, they cannot break the sound barrier.”

At sea level, an airplane has to fly over 750 miles per hour to break the sound barrier and create a “sonic boom,” Edwards said. The KC-135 tankers can only travel at about 535 mph at 30,000 feet, he said.

Occasional planes from partner bases land in Fairchild, but they’re unlikely to break the sound barrier anywhere locally, he said.

“When the plane is flying faster than the speed of sound, it creates a shock wave, and that shock wave is very loud,” Edwards said. “Overland, sonic booms don’t usually happen. These kinds of maneuvers take place over the sea.”

Fairchild’s local explosive ordnance disposal team will occasionally detonate explosive devices on the base, but the noise is often barely audible even on the base, Edwards said.

People from places as far away as Davenport, Washington, told the National Weather Service they heard the boom, local weather forecaster Daniel Butler said. Thunder is a possible explanation, but there were no significant weather events on Tuesday night, he said.

His money is on a sonic boom from a meteor breaking the sound barrier.

As an example, Butler cited the house-sized meteor that made international headlines in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 when it hurtled across the sky at 11 miles per second.

The meteor exploded about 14 miles above Earth’s surface and sent out a shockwave that shattered windows in a 200 square mile radius.

Some suspected the noise was from a nearby earthquake, but no recent earthquakes have been recorded in the Spokane area by the United States Geological Survey.

Others have suggested the bang came from an explosion or gunshots.

Only one person in the area reported a loud noise to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. The caller later said there was a gunshot, but Sheriff’s Office spokesman Cpl. said Mark Gregory.

Ryan Turner, who lives with his wife on Bigelow Gulch Road near Orchard Prairie, said the two were outside in their hot tub when they heard “two different gunshots”. A few minutes later, he heard a loud pop, followed by two more “muffled” pops. The sounds seemed to be coming from the north of their house.

Turner thought the noise might be coming from the nearby train tracks or a quarry, but couldn’t pinpoint it exactly.

Bmapper in Colbert thought it might have been someone shooting at tannerite, explosive targets that tout they produce “a thunderous crack resembling an explosion” when struck.

“If they’re selling stuff to people that’s booming like that, that’s a problem,” she said. “It sounded like someone fired a cannon in my backyard.”

Mysterious booms of history

San Diego, home to a massive military presence, was also subject to mysterious booms in 2021 and 2022, not long after the US Navy released footage of “unidentified aerial phenomena” captured by fighter pilots.

People across the country have had similar experiences, such as in Salt Lake City; Birmingham, Alabama; and Orlando, Fla.; among other things.

The booms are not a new phenomenon.

Explorers Lewis and Clark also noted the “inexplicable artillery of the Rocky Mountains” as they traveled through present-day Bozeman in 1805, according to the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. Explorers heard about the mysterious sounds made by the Pawnee and Arikara tribes coming from the Black Hills of modern-day South Dakota, but dismissed them. The strange noises were noticed as settlers spread across the west.

“Finally, while walking in the plains the other day, I heard this sound very clearly. It was perfectly calm, clear and not a cloud in sight,” wrote Merriweather Lewis. “I am at a loss to explain this phenomenon.”

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