Vapor Cones

Vapor cones typically appear around aircraft flying in the transonic regime–near, but still below, the speed of sound. Air moving over the vehicle accelerates and decelerates as it moves around different parts of the plane; if it didn’t, the plane couldn’t generate lift and wouldn’t fly. When the local flow accelerates past the speed of sound, the accompanying drop in pressure and temperature can be enough to for conditions to fall below the dew point, causing the condensation we see. At the back of the airplane, a shock wave decelerates the airflow back to subsonic speeds and raises local conditions back above the dew point, thereby truncating the cone. (Image credit: C. Caine)

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