Mystery coastal booms: Science Channel show explores Lowcountry ‘alien’ boom phenomenon

Anyone who has lived along the Lowcountry coast for very long knows the drill: A blast rattles the windows. The Air Force says nope, no jets flying supersonic. Seismologists say nope, no earthquake. The scary booms are an age-old mystery.

To watch

WHAT: “Carolina Beach Boom,” a 12-minute segment exploring mysterious blasts that occur along the coast of the Carolinas.

WHERE: “The Unexplained Files,” a Science Channel presentation on cable and satellite television.

WHEN: 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Until now. (Spoiler alert).

It’s aliens. Well, OK, it could be aliens. Or at least a woman who lives near Cape Fear tells television’s “The Unexplained Files” that whenever she hears them, she sees an orange glow.

The episode plays at 9 p.m. Wednesday on Science Channel. It includes an iPhone recording of one of the booms, said Josh Berkley, executive producer.

The strange phenomenon, widely known as the “Seneca Guns,” occurs here and has occurred along other coasts around the world for almost as long as people have lived there. Sometimes it’s a single boom, sometimes it’s a few in succession.

The sound is so close to the blast of a cannon that folk legend in the East says it’s made by the guns of Seneca Indians, fired to get revenge on the settlers who displaced them.

The booms also have been blamed on gases released from the sea floor, undersea landslides along the Continental Shelf, the echoed sound of distant thunder, lightning-like electrical discharges that don’t cause lightning, and even meteors crashing into the atmosphere at angles.

And now, aliens. But so far nobody has been able to say for sure what causes them.

Aliens “are certainly not the definitive answer,” Berkley said. The episode also explores possibilities like temperature inversion.

“It’s fascinating. It’s got good science,” he said. But best of all for the show, it remains unexplained.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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