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Nasa Supersonic Shockwaves Merging

NASA captures stunning images of merging supersonic shockwaves

For the first time ever in history, NASA captured air to air images of the interaction of shockwaves from two supersonic aircraft merging in the air. This was done to create a Jet that flies faster than the speed of sound without producing irritating ‘Sonic booms‘.

The greatest challenge in capturing the image was timing. NASA flew a B-200 equipped with imaging system, that took 10 years to develop, reached around 30,000 feet to acquire the spellbinding image and collected 1,400 frames per second.

The image depicts two T-38 supersonic Jets from the US Air Force, during a test flight from the research center at Air Force Base, California.


The pair of T-38s were required to not only remain in proper formation but to fly within the camera’s frame at supersonic speeds, as they passed 2,000 feet beneath the B-200. As a result, the three aircrafts were at the right place and at the right time.

“I am ecstatic about how these images turned out. We never dreamt that it would be this clear, this beautiful. With this upgraded system, we have, by an order of magnitude, improved both the speed and quality of our imagery from previous research.” J.T. Heineck, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said in a statement.

The system will be used to capture data confirming the design of the agency’s X-59 to quiet supersonic Technology X-Plane. The X-59 flying supersonic will produce shockwaves in such a way that instead of sonic boom only a quiet rumble may be heard.

Low Boom Flight Demonstrator

Nasa Quiet Supersonic Technology Low-Boom Flight Demonstrator (Source: NASA)

When an aircraft crosses around 1,225 km per hour at sea level, it produces waves from the pressure it puts around, producing the irritating thunderous sound called ‘Sonic booms’.

Sonic booms can be Deafening to people on the ground, responsible for shattering of window panes.
Few countries like United State and cities have banned the Franco-British airliner from their airspace because of its sonic booms.

“What’s interesting is, if you look at the rear T-38, you see these shocks kind of interact in a curve.
This is because the trailing T-38 is flying in the wake of the leading aircraft, so the shocks are going to be shaped differently. This data is really going to help us advance our understanding of how these shocks interact.” said Neal Smith, a research engineer at NASA.

These images will be helpful for research into planes that can fly faster than sound without causing irritating sonic booms, lifting current restrictions on supersonic flight over land.

About the author: Kshitij Kumar Moderator
Kshitij has always been passionate about Science and Technology. He is a Mechanical Engineering graduate from IIT Jodhpur. Kshitij has worked in many fields of Science and Marketing. Along with managing backend and technicalities of the website, he is also one of our editors and marketing managers. Kshitij was the one who came up with the idea of connecting people interested in Science and built a team which is now ScienceHook.

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