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October 26 2012

For Tune-Carrying Sand Dunes, the Key Lies in the Grains

In a few places on Earth, sand "sings" as it falls down dunes, making a low droning sound that lies within the bottom half of a cello's musical range.

For centuries the eerie humming in deserts mesmerized visitors such as explorer Marco Polo and scientist Charles Darwin, who couldn't explain the origin of the sound.

Scientists suspected they were hearing vibrations in the subsurface layers of the dunes. In 2009, however, University of France researchers found that the sound is created by vibrations of the sand grains that avalanche down the dunes.

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