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Breaking the Sound Barrier

990707-N-6483G-001 ABOARD USS CONSTELLATION (July 7, 1999)-- Lieutenant Ron Candiloro, assigned to Fighter Squadron One Five One (VF-151), breaks the sound barrier in an F/A-18 "Hornet". VF-151 is currently deployed with the USS Constellation (CV 64) battlegroup. U.S. Navy photo by Ensign John Gay. (RELEASED)

A reader said he heard two really loud booms northeast of Eden. He’s heard them before and was told they came from Mountain Home, but he doesn’t believe it. He wonders what happened.

A sonic boom is the sound allied with the shock waves created by an object traveling through the air faster than the speed of sound. It produces enormous amounts of energy, sounding like an explosion.

The type of aircraft flown at Mountain Home Air Force Base can cause loud sonic booms. But officials there have long denied that they’re the source of occasional booms heard in the Magic Valley.

Monday, Feb. 25, a spokeswoman said the base was looking into the Eden report.

“We did have jets in the airspace from 6-7:30 p.m. that evening. However, the jets would have been taking off at the same time the noise was reported in the Eden area,” said 2nd Lt. Rebecca Ennis.

Chris Anderson from the Faulkner Planetarium in Twin Falls said the sonic booms come from the Saylor Creek Bombing Range. “They’re probably flying some secret aircraft at night.”

“Sound quality changes by distance and time,” Anderson said. If you’re outside, you should have seen the aircraft flying over unless it’s overcast, he said.

A sonic boom is usually heard as a deep double “boom” as the aircraft is some distance away. When the aircraft is near, the sonic boom is a sharper “bang” or “crack.” The sound is similar to the “aerial bombs” used at firework displays.

Greater altitude increases the boom’s spread, exposing a wider area to the boom.

Boom intensity is greatest directly under the flight path, progressively weakening with distance. The ground width of the boom exposure area is approximately one mile for each 1,000 feet of altitude; therefore, an aircraft flying supersonic at 30,000 feet will create a boom spread of about 30 miles.

Depending on the aircraft’s altitude, sonic booms reach the ground two to 60 seconds after flyover.

Anderson said large meteors can also produce a shock wave, as evidenced by the recent explosion in Russia.

“There should have been more reports” if there was an actual explosion in the Magic Valley, said Anderson.

He said rumbling sounds that are too low to hear accompany earthquakes. No reports of an earthquake were noted on the U.S. Geological Survey’s website at the time of the boom in question.

The Jerome County Sheriff’s Office and the Southern Idaho Regional Communications Center did not report any activity or major events that evening.

The Mountain Home base’s public affairs office did not respond to questions for this column. In the past, officials have said they don’t believe they are the source of the booms.

The 100,000-acre bombing and training range is located 25 miles south of Mountain Home.

According to a database managed by the Center for Land Use Interpretation, the range is primarily used for training for air-to-ground warfare and is covered with moveable simulated “threats.”

Military aircraft are supposed to adhere to established airspace and altitude restrictions to prevent exceeding the sound barrier without authorization unless they are in military airspace.

Altitudes for military operations differ for each individual area. The U.S. Air Force can conduct nighttime lights-out training using night-vision goggles in certain areas. Military aircraft are not confined to restricted areas and certain activities are prohibited in controlled airspace such as aerobatics.

“I wish I could put my finger on these occasional booms that I hear as well,” said Bill Carberry, manager of the TwinFalls airport. “I have heard that it may be military aircraft practicing in our region, but I do not know for sure. Perhaps a weather event like thunder... I’m curious myself.”

Who is in charge of shoveling sidewalks in front of businesses downtown?

In the city of TwinFalls, “It is the property owner’s responsibility to shovel the sidewalks in front of their businesses. The city only maintains the sidewalks in front or around city-owned properties,” said Mark Thomson, the city’s street supervisor.

Have a question? Just ask and we’ll find an answer for you. Email your question to Kimberly Williams Brackett at with “Curious Mind” in the subject line.

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