Meteors typically occur about 50 to 75 miles above the ground. This Perseid meteor was photographed from above by astronaut Ron Garan aboard the ISS in August 2011. (NASA image)
Have you ever gone outside on a cold, clear night to watch a meteor shower and witness a super-bright fireball racing across the sky so brilliantly that you could swear you could hear it? Turns out the sizzling noise might not have been all in your head after all…but rather on it. (And here’s science to prove it.)
Meteors—aka “shooting stars”—have anecdotally been known to exhibit sounds to viewers on the ground for a long time: faint hissing, humming, buzzing, or popping noises that accompany bright fireballs (meteors brighter than magnitude -4) but don’t seem to make logical sense, especially considering that the light from the meteors you see is reaching your eyes nearly instantaneously from an event occurring at least 50 miles up. There’s simply no way a sound generated by a meteor at the source would be heard at the same time as it’s seen, or even closely afterwards—if it were even loud enough to cross the distance.
Learn your meteor terminology! Poster via the American Meteor Society ...