Seeing the Wake

Hot exhaust gases churn in the wake of this climbing B-1B Lancer. The high temperature of the exhaust changes the density and, thus, the refractive index of the gases relative to the atmosphere. Light traveling through the exhaust gets distorted, making the highly turbulent flow visible to the human eye. Note how the four individual engine exhaust plumes quickly combine into one indistinguishable wake. This is typical for turbulence; it’s hard to track where any given fluctuations originally came from. The airplane’s wingtip vortices are just visible as well, if you look closely. (Image credit: T. Rogoway; submitted by Mark S.)

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