Phenomena

Shock Waves in Flight

Schlieren photography allows visualization of density gradients, such as the sharp ones created by shock waves off this T-38 aircraft flying at Mach 1.1 around 13,000 ft. Although shock waves are relatively weak at this low supersonic Mach number, they persist, as seen in the image, at significant distances from the craft. The sonic boom associated with the passage of such a vehicle overhead is due to the pressure change across a shock wave. The higher the altitude of the supersonic craft, the less intense its shock wave, and thus sonic boom, will be by the time it reaches ground level. (Photo credit: NASA)

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