How NASA reveals supersonic jet shockwaves

NASA researchers in California are using an updated version of a 150-year-old German photography technique – schlieren imaging – to capture images of shock waves created by supersonic aeroplanes. 

Schlieren imaging reveals shock waves due to the air density gradient and the accompanying change in refractive index.

This schlieren image above dramatically displays the shock wave of a supersonic jet flying over the Mojave Desert.

Researchers used NASA-developed image processing software to remove the desert background, then combined and averaged multiple frames to produce a clear picture of the shock waves.

There’s more information about how the system works on the NASA website.


Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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