This past weekend, the Perseid meteor shower reached its peak overnight between Sunday and Monday. With a little patience and clear skies, the electromagnetic radiation in the visible spectrum that meteors release is easily seen. But did you know that meteors also release very low frequency radio waves, below 30 kilohertz? According to livescience, going back hundreds if not thousands of years, people have claimed to hear sounds of meteors as they raced across the sky. The very low frequency radio waves travel at the speed of light (not at the speed of sound) and arrive at the same time observers see a meteor passing overhead. However, the radio waves need a transducer to could create a sound that is audible to people. This phenomenon is known as electrophonics, and in order to study it further, physicist Colin Keay created sounds in ordinary objects by exposing them to very low frequency radiation in a laboratory. Lightweight, membrane-like objects such as aluminum foil, foliage, thin wires, even dry frizzy hair produced sounds that were easily heard.
Never having heard this before, we thought we would head out to Long Island to try and hear it for ourselves. We saw and heard a few things…First, there are quite a few sky-watchers in New York, which unfortunately meant that second, people noise and car stereos are louder than the sound from meteors. Also, being by the beach, the sound of the ocean waves were also louder than the meteors. Even if we couldn’t hear them this time, and although there were a few passing clouds, meteor showers still create a wondrous sight. We will just have to make plans to go somewhere a bit quieter next time.