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Images of shockwaves interacting as 2 aircraft fly faster than the speed of sound. Photo: NASA.

You may have heard the deep, sudden "boom" generated when an aircraft breaks the sound barrier. But most of us have never seen what it looks like from a fluid dynamics perspective — turns out, it's gorgeous.

Why it matters: NASA is in the process of developing and extensively testing a quiet supersonic aircraft that, if successful, could usher in a new era of domestic air travel.

What they did: Recently, NASA tested an air-to-air photographic technology, known as the schlieren photography technique, to capture the first-ever images of how shockwaves from 2 supersonic aircraft interact in flight. This technique relies on how light rays are bent when they encounter changes in the density of a fluid.

  • “We never dreamt that it would be this clear, this beautiful,” said physical scientist J.T. Heineck of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, in a press release.
  • Flying above the California desert, the test flights resulted in the successful demonstration of an imaging system that can capture high-quality images of shockwaves, which are rapid pressure changes produced when an aircraft flies supersonic. NASA is interested in sonic booms because it is trying to create designs for quieter supersonic aircraft.

Details: The images show a pair of T-38 training aircraft flying in formation at supersonic speeds. According to NASA, the T-38s in the photo were flying approximately 30 feet away from each other, with the trailing aircraft flying about 10 feet lower than the leading T-38.

What they're saying: “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 at NASA Ames’ fluid mechanics laboratory, said in the release.

  • “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.”

Go deeper

AOC and Ilhan Omar want to block Biden’s former chief of staff

Reps. Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are boosting a petition against Joe Biden nominating his former chief of staff to a new role in his administration, calling Bruce Reed a "deficit hawk” and criticizing his past support for Social Security and Medicare cuts.

Why it matters: Progressives are mounting their pressure campaign after the president-elect did not include any of their favored candidates in his first slate of Cabinet nominees, and they are serious about installing some of their allies, blocking anyone who doesn't pass their smell test — and making noise if they are not heard.

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Biden introduces top national security team

President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Tuesday at an event introducing the incoming administration's top national security officials, where he told the story of his stepfather being the only one of 900 children at his school in Poland to survive the Holocaust.

What they're saying: "At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the woods in Bavaria. From his hiding place, he heard a deep rumbling sound. It was a tank. But instead of the iron cross, he saw painted on its side a five pointed white star," Blinken said.