1. The Big Bang was noiseless. Everything in the universe expanded uniformly, so nothing came into contact with anything else. No contact, no sound waves.
2. Astronomer Fred Hoyle coined the term Big Bang in the ’50s, not because he thought it was noisy, but because he thought the theory was ridiculous.
3. For a really big bang, you should have heard Krakatoa in 1883. On Aug. 27, the volcanic island in Indonesia erupted with the explosive power of 200 megatons of TNT. The eruption could be heard nearly 3,000 miles away, making it the loudest noise in recorded history.
4. There are people who would outdo it if they could. They pack their cars with stereo amps to pump out 180-plus decibels (dB) of noise at so-called dB drag races. That’s how loud a jet engine would sound — if it were a foot away from your ear.
5. Jets get a bad rap. According to psychoacoustician Hugo Fastl, people perceive airplane noise as if it were 10 dB greater than the equivalent noise made by a train.
6. Since the decibel scale is logarithmic, growing exponentially, that means a jet sounds 10 times noisier than a train when the noise levels of both vehicles are objectively the same.
7. The only difference is that people find plane noises more annoying. The effects are dubbed the “railway bonus” and “aircraft malus.”
8. The first known noise ordinance was passed by the Greek province of Sybaris in the sixth century B.C. Tinsmiths and roosters were required to live outside the town limits.
9. Recognizing noise exposure as an occupational safety hazard took longer. The first scientific study was initiated in 1886 by Glasgow surgeon Thomas Barr. After he tested the hearing of 100 boilermakers, he determined that incessant pounding of hammers against metal boilers caused severe hearing loss.
10. One of Barr’s solutions to the problem of “boilermaker’s ear” was to suggest that clergymen shave their beards so that workmen could lip-read their sermons.
11. No wonder unprotected boilermaking was a problem: The human ear can perceive sound waves that move the eardrum less than the width of an atom.
12. You can fight noise with noise. The first patent on “active noise cancellation” dates to 1933, when German physicist Paul Lueg proposed to silence sound waves by simultaneously generating waves of the exact opposite orientation. The principle is now used in noise-canceling headsets.
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