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Beautiful images could lead to quieter supersonic jets

Engadget Engadget 27/04/2016 Aaron Souppouris
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Researchers have been looking for the key to quieter supersonic transport for years. And if you've ever heard a sonic boom, you'll know why it's an important problem to solve.

While it's impossible to eradicate that noise -- anything breaking the sound barrier is going to create the change in pressure that causes it -- you can make design adjustments to aircraft to decrease it.

The image above was taken last year. It shows a jet flying at supersonic speed, and was actually taken from another aircraft, flying at subsonic (i.e. "regular") speed above it. To capture it, NASA adapted a century-old technique called schlieren imaging, shooting 109 frames per second while the jet flew below. After processing the imagery, NASA scientists can visualize shock waves, vortices and engine plume effects.

It's hoped that this data, along with other efforts like the Eagle Aero Probe, will help it to tweak the design of airplanes to minimize the noise created when flying at supersonic speeds. In turn, that could make flying supersonic over populated areas -- something the Concorde passenger jet never did -- a realistic prospect.

The Big Picture is a recurring feature highlighting beautiful images that tell big stories. We explore topics as large as our planet, or as small as a single life, as affected by or seen through the lens of technology.

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