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In Superman Returns movie, Superman claims that he can hear sounds from most (if not all) of Metropolis. Later he is shown to be able to hear and react to sounds such as alarms, car crashes, etc., while hovering well above the clouds.

How does he detect such far away sounds?

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    Keep asking questions, don't let this keep you down.
    – user40790
    Aug 17, 2016 at 14:47

4 Answers 4

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Sound really does travel that far.

To answer your question, since it's now open, a normal human can hear Silbo (a whistled language) from up to 5 miles away. Sound really can travel that far. silbo

However, lower frequency sounds take less energy to travel longer distances: an alligator mating call, for example, can be heard for miles -- and that's at frequencies humans can hear.

If Superman's ears are super sensitive, they are also likely able to hear frequencies that human can't -- and thus he would recognize these sounds by their longest-traveled frequencies that he could hear; this is consistent with the behavior of animals with greater-than-human hearing, like dogs responding to a dog whistle from large distances.

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  • Well thought out answer. Aug 17, 2016 at 22:35
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    Silbo is quite possibly the coolest bit of linguistics I've ever heard of. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.
    – T.J.L.
    Sep 22, 2017 at 18:03
  • @T.J.L. I aim to enlighten.
    – user40790
    Sep 22, 2017 at 19:03
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Superman has the ability to to expand his hearing, giving him the ability to hear things really far away as if they were right next to him. Anything that falls within his hearing range is instantly teleported to his ears. If this wasn't the case then if he were to overhear a conversation in China all the way from the UK then he would be hearing it 9 hours late, and not to mention that all the sound will have dissipated anyway, which is why humans can't hear sounds from long distances. He doesn't have to wait for the sound to travel to him, he can go to it. This is also how he can hear in space, all he has to do is expand his hearing all the way back to Earth and he will be able to hear things there.

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    Welcome to SFF:SE. We recommend having a look at the tour, which contains helpful hints for using the site. Examples of the feats you name would go a long way to improving this answer.
    – Politank-Z
    Sep 21, 2017 at 19:23
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    Technically is 100% correct, as Superman has instant hearing over any distance, and regardless of the medium too. He can just fly in space and still hear sounds from earth in real time (which is impossible) and into the void (which is, again, impossible). The name of the feats is Superhearing, but the question do not ask for that, it ask for the how, and the how is the one given by this answer.
    – motoDrizzt
    Sep 21, 2017 at 19:46
  • In Countdown Issue #48, he hears Jimmy Olsen's high frequency signal all the way from Vega which is 25.05 light years from Earth. Mar 5, 2018 at 18:02
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A common fan theory, which has been proposed at least since the Superman 2 film, is that Superman has some form of psionic abilities rather than "Super-strength", "Super-hearing", and "X-Ray Vision". As has been noted before, he hears things in real-time, even when the speed of sound means the signal is hours to days old. He can hear things through the vacuum of space. When he hears something, he often is shown getting an entirely accurate image of what's going on visually. And what he hears is almost always plot-relevant. He hears the bank robber stating that they are about to set the charge instead of millions of vuvuzela soundings. He hears a mugger demanding the wallet instead of a politician talking about how they plan to steal millions from health care funds. When he uses X-Ray Vision, he always sees exactly what he plans to see rather than any intermediate layers, and he never sees more deeply than he plans to. When he uses his super-strength, objects don't fall apart when he holds him by the corner, and he can burst every link of a chain at once.

That said, to my knowledge, this has never been officially addressed in the comics, although some Superman pastiches have explicitly made the powers psionic or the result of reality warping.

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I can't remember which comic it was in, but it was explained that superman's super-hearing is psionic. I have also seen that he can technically see sound and understand it.

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