Visitors to Egypt’s Sinai Desert may think that phantoms live across the open sands.
Eerie, haunting sounds sometimes come off the dunes, suggesting the calling of a
djinn, or spirit of the dead. Arab wise men recorded knowledge of this phenomenon
1,500 years ago, while today’s scientists march to the desert armed with microphones and
seismic recorders. The musical sands, however, remain unexplained.
The researchers do not know what causes this amazing event, but they have discovered
that under certain circumstances, dry, smooth grains of sand flowing loosely down a sand
dune emit a loud, low-frequency sound, similar to that produced by a kettle-drum or
far-away thunder. Some investigators believe that the noise is actually a kind of
thunder, produced by the discharge of static electricity produced by friction among
moving sand grains.
The musical sands can be heard from the Sahara and the Sinai Desert to the deserts of
South America, California, and China. Some researchers think that they may even be heard
across the open dunes of Mars.