What Breaking the Sound Barrier Looks Like

Shaunacy Ferro
NASA Photo
NASA Photo / NASA Photo

NASA has found a way to make the sonic boom created when an aircraft breaks the sound barrier—flying faster than the speed of sound—visible.

NASA researchers at Edwards Air Force Base and Moffett Field in California have spent five years working on using a photographic technique called schlieren imagery, a method of visualizing fluids and air currents invented by a German physicist in 1864, to image the shock waves associated with supersonic jets. The photo above of the shock wave created by a supersonic NASA research plane breaking the sound barrier was created with special image-processing software and is a combination of multiple frames taken by cameras located on the underside of another plane. 

Being able to visualize shock waves can help scientists collect data about the location and strength of the shock waves associated with supersonic aircraft, aiding in the development of new high-speed planes.

[h/t: The New York Times]