What Would You Hear If A Meteor Flew By?

If you ever watch a falling meteor, you might hear some weird sounds.

Falling meteors are likely to be many miles away from you, and although sound travels pretty fast, it is still much slower than the speed of light. So, when you see the meteor, you shouldn't be able to hear the sound for another few minutes. But you do. So, what's going on?

A paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, set out to solve this conundrum, which researchers believed had less to do with sound waves coming from the meteor, and more to do with the light waves!

See, a meteor burning through the atmosphere becomes a very bright fireball and can even reach temperatures similar to the sun. It generates light in pulses, and this light shoots in all directions.

The researchers' theory was that materials that absorb heat well, like leaves, fine hair, and dark clothing, will be heated by this meteors' light. When those objects are heated, the air directly around them is also heated, generating pressure waves, and these pressure waves create sound.

So... what you're really hearing is the result of the light and heat, not the sounds of the meteor falling.

Read More:

Phys.org: Sandia researchers offer explanation for hissing and popping noises heard from meteors

Scientific Reports: Photoacoustic Sounds from Meteors

American Meteor Society: Fireball FAQs