Fluorescing Shock Waves

Wind tunnel testing plays a major role in the planning of many space missions. Here a model of the Mars Sample Return Orbiter is tested at Mach 10 to determine the heat shield’s response to aerobraking off Mars’ atmosphere. The colors are the result of electron beam fluorescence, in which an electron gun is used to ionize molecules in the flow, which causes them to emit photons (light). The technique can be used for flow visualization–as in the case of the shock waves shown here–or to measure flow characteristics like density, temperature, and velocity. (Photo credit: Thierry Pot/DAFE/ONERA)

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