Supersonic interaction

This colourised composite image released last week shows two T-38 aircraft flying in formation at supersonic speeds and producing shock waves.

Using schlieren photography - a technique used to photograph the flow of matter of varying density - American space agency Nasa was able to capture the first air-to-air images of the interaction of shock waves from two aircraft.

The images, taken by another plane flying at about 600m above the two fast-moving jets, captures how the shock waves became distorted or curved as they interacted.

Mr J.T. Heineck, a physical scientist at Nasa's Ames Research Centre in California, said in a statement: "We never dreamt that it would be this clear, this beautiful."

Aircraft flying faster than the speed of sound create shock waves that are typically heard on the ground as a sonic boom. Ultimately, Nasa wants to design an aircraft that rumbles rather than booms when it crashes through the sound barrier.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2019, with the headline 'Supersonic interaction'. Print Edition | Subscribe