On Friday, March 15, 2019, French television channel RMC Découverte presented a feat by NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), which has successfully captured images of the boom made by breaking the sound barrier. These images provide valuable information about how waves work and might one day allow us to limit the “bang” made when the sound barrier is broken.
The speed of sound is 340 m/s (over 1200 km/h). When an aircraft reaches this speed, the air is so compressed that a shock wave is produced, making a loud bang in the air.
In December 2018, NASA carried out a test to photograph these waves at the point when the sound barrier is broken. Two pilots flying two T-38 supersonic jets set out together from a desert in California in the United States. A third aircraft carrying state-of-the-art equipment had the mission of photographing the shock waves from the two jets at the moment of the “sonic boom”.
These photographs, published on March 5, 2019, had color added after the test to show the waves more clearly. Thanks to these photos, NASA scientists think we will be able to understand how waves work and the interactions between them.
This breakthrough could lead to the return of commercial supersonic aircraft for the first time since Concorde retired in 2003.