FEB 21, 2017 11:37 AM PST

Could You Hear a Meteor if it Was Flying Past You?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard


Sometimes when watching meteors, you can hear different kinds of noises coming from the sky, such as hissing or crackling. On the other hand, are they really coming from the meteor itself?

Because of the speed at which meteors are moving, it's very unlikely that the noises you're hearing are coming directly from the meteor itself. Instead, as a paper in Scientific Reports would explain, because of just how hot the space rock is as it moves through the Earth's atmosphere at these high speeds, it's causing reactions with the air around it.

What you're hearing are the air particles nearby putting off sounds from the changing pressures and from the light being produced. This is known as photoacoustics, and the aforementioned study actually tested photoacoustics to see if we can hear the effects of light, and it turned out that as long as there are lots of transducers nearby, like curly hair or leaves, it's pretty easy to hear these kinds of effects.

Similar sound effects are heard when lightning strikes, as the electricity is moving so quickly that you don't actually hear the lightning itself, but you do hear the crackling of the burning air near a lightning strike, and most of the time, you even hear a sonic boom (the thunder). These effects, just like in the case of meteors, are amplified by nearby transducers.

So can you hear meteors? Maybe after they've come and gone you can hear a sonic boom of sorts (depending on their size), but most of the time, no. And what you do hear are the effects of their light and heat causing pressure changes in the air around you.

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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