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New York: apparently that earthquake you felt was just a sonic boom, no big deal

New York: apparently that earthquake you felt was just a sonic boom, no big deal

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Wesley Harper / Getty

The US Geological Survey is here to soothe the nerves of New Yorkers on edge this afternoon: that earthquake you may have felt around 1:30PM? Yeah, don't worry about it — it was just a series of "at least 9 sonic booms" recorded over the course of an hour and a half.


The reason you don't hear sonic booms more often — the audible effect of an object breaking the sound barrier — is that it's illegal in the United States for civilian aircraft. That's fine, since the Concorde isn't operating anymore and there isn't some thick catalog of Mach 1 airplanes you and I can choose from.

The military, of course, is another story. It has a variety of aircraft that can travel faster than the speed of sound, though they generally don't do it over populated areas for the same reason that civilian aircraft aren't allowed to — it's terrifyingly loud (see the false earthquake alert here, for instance) and potentially dangerous to people and property alike. There are certain places in the US where military jets do regularly break Mach 1, for training and operations. New York City is probably not one of them.

So, to the men and women of our military who made a ruckus this afternoon: congratulations on briefly turning Manhattan into a scene from San Andreas. Hope you had fun up there.

Update Jan 28 5:27PM: The military is now saying that an F-35C was responsible for the booms, NBC reports. The "C" variant of the Joint Strike Fighter is designed for carriers — the Navy, in other words. The JSF is barely in active service and it's already causing trouble, I see.