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Meteor Static

March 4, 2018

Many people spend a lot of money on products designed to keep their hair from getting too frizzy. But getting rid of the frizziness just could deprive them of the chance to hear something rare: the crackling of a bright meteor.

A meteor forms when a bit of space rock slams into Earth’s atmosphere. Friction causes it to vaporize, creating a streak of light. Bigger rocks form brighter streaks, known as fireballs.

Over the centuries, many people reported hearing faint sounds from especially bright fireballs — hissing, popping, or rustling sounds that were barely audible. But faint whispers couldn’t be direct sounds from the fireballs — they’re so high that it would take many minutes for any sounds to reach the ground.

So until a few decades ago, most scientists dismissed reports of meteor sounds. Edmond Halley, of Halley’s Comet fame, called them “pure fantasy.”

But in 1978, an Australian scientist concluded that the sounds were real, but not actual sounds from the meteor itself. Instead, they were produced by very-low-frequency radio waves generated in the electrically charged path behind a meteor.

As the waves reached the ground, they could cause some objects to vibrate — producing “electrophonic” sounds. The list included wire-rimmed eyeglasses and frizzy hair.

Other researchers verified the idea during a major meteor shower in 1998 — confirming that a fireball in the sky can create a faint “whisper” on the ground.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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