Meteorology: Mapping the Air by Sound

At Queen Victoria's funeral in 1901, cannons in London boomed a ceremonial farewell—and villagers 90 miles away were startled by the rumbling volley. Yet not a shot was heard in towns halfway between. What caused the funereal boom to leapfrog?

Turn-of-the-century scientists theorized that the cannons' ascending roar had been bent by a freak atmospheric condition that sent it tumbling back to earth. But not until men began probing the upper atmosphere with instrumented rockets could the conditions that caused this sound bounce be fully understood. Early this month, scientists at the White Sands Missile Range used a phenomenon like...

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