Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Sonic Boom
Name: Mark
Status: other
Age: 20s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001


Question:
Does an aircraft moving faster than the speed of sound produce a sonic boom continually as it moves overhead or only as it breaks the sound barrier? What causes the sonic boom?


Replies:
When an aircraft is moving faster than sound a shock wave is formed on the leading edges of the aircraft. This shock wave is there as long as the aircraft is moving faster than sound. We only hear the sonic boom when this shock wave passes over us.

To see why the shock wave forms, draw an aircraft on a piece of paper (make it about 3 inches long and facing the nearest edge of the paper. Now let's imagine sound coming from the front edge of the airplane while it is traveling at twice the speed of sound. Use a compass to draw circles representing the soundwave radiating in a sphere from the point where it is generated. The first circle will be 1/2" in radius and 1" behind the nose of the airplane (in the time the airplane traveled 1" the sound travelled half that distance -- i.e., the plane is travelling twice the speed of sound). The next circle will be drawn 1" in radius, 2" behind the nose of the airplane. Then:
Radius    Distance behind nose
1.5"            3"
2.0"            4"
2.5"            5"

You'll notice that if you draw a line that is tangent to all the circles it will emanate from the nose of the airplane. This line represents the shock wave moving out from the nose of the plane. Where it crosses the ground is where the sonic boom is heard. All the sound waves

Greg Bradburn


The aircraft makes a sonic boom as it passes overhead, so long as it is moving faster than sound. Sound waves emitted forward get compressed into a conic shock wave. When that cone crosses your ears, you hear a boom.

A visible example of a shock wave is the "V" that extends behind a speedboat. The boat moves faster than the water waves. Like sound from a supersonic jet, the forward waves get compressed into a single pulse.

Kenneth Mellendorf



Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory