Science Questions

When a meteor falls to Earth, does it break the sound barrier?

Sun, 12th Sep 2010

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Roy, from Newmarket asked:

When a meteor falls to Earth, does it break the sound barrier?


Dominic -   Yes, it breaks the sound barrier – actually by a very long way.  These meteors are typically travelling at 10.000-30,000 km/s when they impact the atmosphere [and sound only travels at 330m/s], so they’ll produce a massive shock-wave and you may hear a bang if the meteor is big enough.  

Chris -   A sonic boom?

Dominic -   A sonic boom – yes, exactly!  And in fact, if you have a large meteor, such as the one that hit Tunguska in 1909, it was the shock-wave that caused most of the damage rather than the object itself.  The object would have been only a few tens of metres across, but the shock-wave it produced devastated an area of several square miles in Siberia.

Dave -   I guess the reason why you don’t normally hear [sonic booms] for small shooting stars is they don’t get far enough down so the sound doesn’t reach you standing on the ground.

Dominic - Yes. And also - they’re very small objects, most shooting stars.  



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How big does a meteor have to be, to produce an audible sonic boom? Gem, Mon, 5th May 2014

There is no sound in space so you wouldn't hear anything even if they were huge. Bill, Wed, 26th Oct 2016

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