Several years ago I hiked up the Kelso Dunes in the Mohave Desert in California, then sat and slid down them to the bottom. If you’ve ever tried this, or heard a similar avalanche of sand, you know that the sand emits a distinctive and mysterious low whining sound, which some people call “singing” and some call “booming.” According to physicist Bruno Andreotti, who’s been studying the phenomenon, the noise can be as 105 decibels and, being low-frequency, can be heard up to 10 kilometers away.
Studying actual dunes, Andreotti found that vibrations in the sand act like slow-moving elastic sound waves that run across the surface of the dunes. The vibration of the sand bed tends to synchronize the collisions, and the surface of the sand bed acts like the membrane in a loudspeaker, accounting for the sound.
Try it next time you’re out in the desert.
How Rust went from a side project to the world’s most-loved programming language
For decades, coders wrote critical systems in C and C++. Now they turn to Rust.
The inside story of how ChatGPT was built from the people who made it
Exclusive conversations that take us behind the scenes of a cultural phenomenon.
Design thinking was supposed to fix the world. Where did it go wrong?
An approach that promised to democratize design may have done the opposite.
Sam Altman invested $180 million into a company trying to delay death
Can anti-aging breakthroughs add 10 healthy years to the human life span? The CEO of OpenAI is paying to find out.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.