Listen in on the Perseid meteor shower

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Aug. 11 2011 9:34 AM

Listen in on the Perseid meteor shower

The Moon is putting a big wet blanket on this year's Perseid meteor shower, making it hard to see them.

But that's OK: if you can't see them, why not listen to them?

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Sounds weird, but thanks to SpaceWeatherRadio, now you can! You're not really hearing sound, of course: meteors burn up in our atmosphere at a height of 100 km or so, too high to directly carry sound waves. But the Air Force has a radar surveillance facility in Texas that beams radio waves into the sky. When a bit of cosmic fluff streaks through our sky, the ionized trail it leaves reflects the radio waves, producing an echo. This radio wave is then translated into sound, so you can effectively hear a meteor! Here's an example of a Geminid meteor; it sounds like it could've been pulled right off the soundtrack for "Forbidden Planet". There's also more info on how this works on the NASA science page.

If you want to listen live, here you go. I had it going for a while and heard several faint but distinct dying "Eeeeeeeoooooooo" sounds from meteors within a few minutes (as well as other sharper sounds I'm not sure I can identify, which makes the whole thing even cooler). The best time to listen for Perseids is after midnight Texas (Central) time, but if you leave it running you're bound to hear a few of those creepy sounds coming from your speakers.

I'll note that other sounds can be made from radio waves in this fashion. You can listen to Saturn, hear what the Phoenix Mars lander sounded like on its way down to the surface of the Red Planet, and listen to very odd and creepy sounds of the aurorae.

The Universe is talking to us all the time, you know. We just have to have the right ears -- and the brains between them -- to hear what it's saying.

Tip o' the radar dish to BlackProjects on Twitter.


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