Shuttle Re-Entry

Complicated shock wave patterns envelope vehicles traveling at supersonic and hypersonic speeds. A shock wave is essentially a very tiny region–only a few mean free path lengths wide–over which flow conditions, including density, pressure, velocity, and temperature, change drastically. The image above shows a model of the Space Shuttle at a re-entry-like, high angle of attack at around Mach 20 in one of NASA Langley’s historic helium tunnels. The eerie glow outlining the shock structures around the model is a result of electron-beam fluorescence. In this flow visualization technique, a beam of high-energy electrons is swept over the model, causing the gas molecules to fluoresce according to temperature. (Photo credit: NASA Langley)

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