This week, NASA released the first-ever images of shockwaves from two supersonic jets interacting, and they are simply stunning. The images are the culmination of an "advanced air-to-air photographic technology" that has taken more than 10 years to develop. They feature two T-38s from the US Air Force test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base with shockwaves — the rapid pressure changes that produce sonic booms — emanating from them, looking a little bit like waves from a fast-moving motorboat. The trailing jet is about 30 feet behind and 10 feet below the leading jet. "What's interesting is, if you look at the rear T-38, you see these shocks kind of interact in a curve," Neal Smith, a research engineer with AerospaceComputing Inc. said in a statement. "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."
The picture above has been colorized to emphasize the interaction of the shockwaves; here's what the original monochrome looks like:
Just for the hell of it, here's what the shockwaves look like in blue:
The imaging system that captured these photographs will be used to help test a new jet design that produces "shockwaves in such a way that, instead of a loud sonic boom, only a quiet rumble may be heard." Pretty cool.
[Read more at NASA]