What is a sonic boom and what causes it?

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A SONIC boom was heard in June 2019 when two RAF Typhoon fighters were scrambled to intercept a Jet2 plane when a woman threatened to kill passengers and allegedly “rushed the cockpit”.

The sonic boom was heard 40 miles away but what creates the noise?

A sonic boom was heard over Essex after RAF Typhoon fighters were scrambled (stock image)
Caters News Agency

What is a sonic boom?

A sonic boom is the noise created by the shock waves created when a flying object travels faster than the speed of sound.

They sound like a loud explosion or thunderclap that can cause minor damage to buildings and wake sleeping people.

The speed of sound, known as Mach 1 for aircraft, is approximately 767mph at sea level.

The noise of a sonic boom isn’t heard in all directions from the object and isn’t only heard at the moment the object crosses the speed of sound.

The boom is a continuous effect that is created while the vehicle is travelling at supersonic speeds.

When the RAF Typhoon jets were scrambled residents in Essex reported feeling their homes “shaking” after a “loud explosion”.

It was heard in Harlow, Epping, Chelmsford and Stanstead at around 6.40pm on June 22, 2019.

The passenger plane had set off from Stanstead Airport on a flight to Dalaman, Turkey when it was turned around and flown back to the airport due to a disruptive passenger.

Essex Police said in a statement: “We were made aware of a disruptive passenger on an inbound flight to Stansted this evening.

“There is a possibility that residents nearby may have heard a loud noise, often associated with a sonic boom, as the aircraft descended into Stansted airspace.”

A sonic boom is heard when a plane travels faster than the speed of sound (stock image)
Caters News Agency

What causes a sonic boom?

As an aircraft passes through the air it creates a number of pressure waves both in front and behind it, in the same way a boat creates waves at its front and back as it passes through the water.

Those waves created by the plane travel at the speed of sound and when the object goes faster than the speed of sound those waves are forced together because they cannot get out of the way fast enough.

They then form a single shock wave which creates a vapour cone with the aircraft at its tip.

There is a rise in pressure at the nose which decreases to a negative pressure at the tail.

The sound of the boom is experienced when there is a sudden change of pressure.

A “double boom” is created – one from the initial pressure created and then another when the pressure returns to normal.

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