The Electrophonic Meteor

In the late 1990's in the early morning hours, Lynn Carroll and I were walking down the gravel road at the Oregon Star Party. It was another outstanding night of excellent transparency. Out of nowhere, a burst of light right in front of us - a face on meteor. At the exact same time, I heard or felt a high pitched buzz or whine coming from inside my head. I started to speak just as Lynn started to say something. He'd heard it too. We chalked it up to the mysteries of the universe; but it kept nagging at me. I posted my experience and after the usual litany of dissing responses, one person said that we may have experienced an electrophonic meteor. He asked if we were wearing glasses (no) or if there were any metal objects nearby (we happened to be walking past the large metal garbage bin!). Since then the phenomena has become accepted, particularly after  many observers heard sounds during the Leonid meteor storm of 2001.

Meteors emit VLF (very low frequency) electro-magnetic waves traveling at the speed of light; focusing them in front of the meteor's path. A transducer like metal eyeglass frames or a nearby large metal object can absorb these waves and vibrate in response, emitting acoustic waves.

Leonids from central Oregon Cascades, Nov 17 2001

Wow - Leonids beyond words!

Up to six meteors visible at any one time, on average a meteor per second, half of the Leonids were magnitude zero or brighter.  Did not matter which direction one faced, meteors were dropping across the sky. Every several minutes a Leonid would explode with a flash, as if someone with a flash camera were taking pictures a few feet away.  Meteors were very fast, with blue tails, a couple of tails lasting up to 30 minutes before disappearing.  A few meteors burst, causing sideways fragments to be cast off at 90 degrees.  Display started at 11pm Pacific Standard Time, held maximum activity from 1 am to 3:30am PST.

We observed from the top of McKenzie Pass at 5000 feet elevation.  The jet black sky and snow on the lava flows with the icy cold 35 mph steady wind made for an experience beyond words.

Mel Bartels