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Explosive sound that rattled windows in Beebe remains a mystery; probably not aliens, professor says

by Josh Snyder | February 25, 2019 at 12:02 p.m.

Officials are working to determine what caused a loud boom that shook windows and rattled neighbors in Beebe on Sunday night.

Maeve Harvey, who owns Legacy Tattoos and Piercing in the city, said she and her husband heard the sound at about 8:45 p.m.

“We have no idea what it was,” she said, noting the pair at first thought it might have been thunder, or perhaps a sonic boom. “My husband and I went out after it happened to make sure everything around town was good. We didn’t see anything. We didn’t even hear sirens.”

The sound could be heard outside Beebe, “from Cabot to Greers Ferry,” said Captain Steve Hall, a spokesman for Beebe police. People in South Bend and Austin reported hearing it as well, though there were no reports of any damage.

But no one knows what it was.

Meagan Gore, who heard it in Hickory Plains, said it “sounded like someone shot a big load of Tannerite.”

At Arkansas State University’s Beebe campus, police began receiving reports of the boom at about 9 p.m., said Keith Moore, spokesman for the college. Moore said the source of the sound did not come from the university.

At around 10 p.m., Beebe police released a statement on Facebook stating the department was aware of the “loud explosion sound” that was heard across the area. At that time, police said they had not received any word of damage and did not know “what the explosion was or where it happened.”

In their statement, police said their phone lines were tied up with questions regarding the noise, and authorities asked that residents refrain from calling unless they had an actual emergency or knew what occurred.

The mayor’s office said on Monday morning that city officials had still not been able to confirm the source of the noise.

On social media, residents floated several ideas about what caused the explosive sound. Several people thought it might have come from Camp Robinson, which is known to fire off loud weapons. Camp Robinson had even issued a noise alert that ran from Friday through Sunday.

However, Major William Phillips, a spokesman for Camp Robinson, said the sound heard in Beebe did not come from them. Further, Phillips said it would be “kind of extreme” for sounds from the base to reach that far away, a distance of about 30 miles.

The noises that come from the facility stand out, with the boom of artillery fire carrying a distinct sound, according to Phillips. Machine gun fire, another noise that commonly emanates from Camp Robinson, typically comes in short, staccato bursts, he said.

Phillips emphasized that Camp Robinson notifies residents in the area whenever they are conducting exercises that might cause loud noises so that people are aware and prepared.

“We’re trying to be good neighbors,” he said.

Others in Beebe mused that the noise could have been a sonic boom. At Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, just over 20 miles away from the city, Lt. Hunter Rininger, a spokesman for the base, said the base does not house any aircraft capable of producing that sort of sound.

A sonic boom might still be the culprit, however. Although the only aircraft capable of causing a sonic boom likely to be heard in the area are military aircraft, such aircraft would be fast enough to come from “anywhere on the east coast,” said Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the FAA.

Lunsford offered another possibility, one also suggested by Beebe residents: meteors entering earth’s atmosphere.

Pat Alford, who said he heard the loud noise in Austin, about 8 miles away from Beebe, said he saw a large light in the sky near the town of Scott and that it looked like a “very close shooting star” that was visible for three to four seconds. Alford said he saw the light about 7 p.m., about an hour-and-a-half before others reported hearing the sound.

Lunsford, however, said he hadn’t seen any reports of bright lights.

John Kennefick, who is an associate professor in physics department at the University of Arkansas, confirmed asteroids or meteorites (the term used to describe meteors that fall through the atmosphere and land on earth) can cause a loud boom as they enter the planet’s atmosphere. Though many burn up in the upper atmosphere and some survive long enough to crash into the earth’s surface, there are some that, upon experiencing greater air resistance in the lower atmosphere, “essentially explode or disrupt.”

These air bursts are often associated with bright lights, such as those described by Alford.

“And then of course there’s this mystery because you’re not aware of anything having reached the ground,” Kennefick said. “There won’t be a crater, but at the same time people will report that they saw something.”

Nothing Kennefick had heard suggested extraterrestrial beings — another possibility raised by some online — were behind the noise. There’s no particular reason to believe that aliens who were capable of traveling all this way would allow their spaceship to blow up in earth’s atmosphere, he said.

“Obviously, it would be sad for the aliens if their spaceship blew up,” Kennefick said.

Harvey, the tattoo parlor owner, said that, in spite of all the speculation, residents might not come up with any answers no matter how many questions they ask.

“There is so much speculation as to what it could’ve been,” she said. “It may be something that we never find out what it could be.”

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