If a close enough star exploded would we ever be able to hear or even feel the explosion?
Remember the old science question: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? The question here is similar. If a star literally exploded in space would we be able to hear it? Would we have to be very close to this major event to hear the explosion? To answer this question we have to understand what sound is and what produces the sounds we hear.
Sounds occur when the air is disturbed by some moving object or other event. Sound moves in waves as energy goes from one tiny particle in the air to another. The movement of air particles comes into contact with our eardrums, which vibrate and send the signal on to our brain and nervous system. We hear by receiving and processing sound waves.
With this explanation, we should be able to hear a massive event like a star exploding, right? The answer is: no. Space is a vacuum. There is no atmosphere – no elemental particles to be moved by an object or the explosion. On earth an explosion produces large waves in the air around us. We can hear the sudden disintegration of the explosion.
This is not going to happen in space. There is no air to transfer energy across the open area to our ears, no matter how close we are to the star. Of course, there might be a few, widely scattered dust particles in space but these are not dense enough to produce energy waves for sound.
Light, not Sound
It’s interesting to note that an exploding star will produce large amounts of light and send out a lot of energy in the form of radiation. This is an electromagnetic phenomenon, which doesn’t require atmosphere, liquid or other medium for travel. That’s why astronomers and other scientists can use sensitive electronic instruments to record celestial events such as the disintegration of a star.
We can watch a star explode, though we wouldn’t want to be close! We can study the activity through information provided by instruments. But we won’t be able to hear the explosion. Scientists recorded the level of explosion a few years and thought they had captured electronic evidence of a star exploding. There was even more excitement when they developed the theory that what they recorded was a “big bang.” Scientists believe this type of event may have created our known universe.
When we discuss the presence of widely scattered dust particles or other molecules in space we should also understand that these particles must be compressed sufficiently to give sound waves something to act on. Since this isn’t the case, it would be impossible to hear even the loudest “sound” in space.
If a tree fell in space, we wouldn’t hear it even if we were there. This would be the case even if it was the biggest tree imaginable.