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Onlookers gather on deck at sea, phones and cameras at the ready. The crowd is clearly anticipating the arrival of something in the sky above. We quickly learn what all the excitement is about. Off in the distance, we see a fast-approaching aircraft. Still a significant distance away, we see a vapor cloud appear around an F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, indicating humid conditions low in the sky and near the water.
Then the aircraft zooms by faster than the speed of sound. Observers hear nothing but the sound of the aircraft's engines until the jet has passed and the shock wave, trailing behind it, crosses their location. That's when we hear the sonic boom. Check it out in the video below.
WATCH VIDEO HERE
Let's talk about the vapor cone. That is not, as commonly misunderstood, the moment the fighter jet crosses the sound barrier and creates a sonic boom. But the water vapor in the cone shape is an indicator that the jet is close to that speed.
"It’s an eye-catching sight that has been captured by photographers and camera crews time and again; a military jet sweeps in low and fast, traveling at hundreds of miles an hour," writes BBC.com. "As it picks up speed, it begins to be surrounded by a giant cone of vapor, a cloud that seems to erupt around the aircraft."
"That, we’re often told in excitable captions, is a sonic boom. Except, it isn’t – or at least, not quite," the explanation continues. "What you’re seeing is a physical effect that takes place as an aircraft approaches the speed of sound, but it’s not the sonic boom itself .... The conditions that create the vapor cone all lead toward the breaking of the sound barrier – but the cones are usually photographed at speeds just below the speed of sound."
Leaving the physics out of it, we appreciate the opportunity to marvel at the sight and the sound.
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