This Is How a Sonic Boom Can Shake the Ground and Rattle Nerves

The release of pressure after a shockwave is the roaring noise people hear.

ByABC News
January 28, 2016, 5:15 PM

— -- Southern New Jersey was rocked by a sonic boom this afternoon, and no one has yet to claim responsibility for the thunderclap-like blast.

So, what exactly is a sonic boom?

A sonic boom is the loud noise generated when an aircraft, or any other type of aerospace vehicle, travels faster than the speed of sound, according to NASA.

A sonic boom travels through the air with the plane, and it arrives on the ground at different times, according to the United States Geological Survey.

As an object travel through the air, air molecules are pushed aside with great force and creates pressure waves similar to bow waves formed in front of a boat in water, NASA said.

When the object breaks the sound barrier, the pressure wave becomes a shockwave, which forms a cone of pressurized air molecules moving outward in all directions. As the cone expands across the landscape along the flight path, it creates a continuous sonic boom.

The sharp release of pressure after the buildup from the shockwave is the roaring noise people hear as the sonic boom, according to NASA.

All supersonic aircraft generate two cones, NASA said. They are usually similar in strength, and the time interval between the two is dependent on the size and altitude of the aircraft. Most people cannot differentiate between the two, and the noise is typically heard as one sonic boom.

A larger, heavier aircraft will create louder, stronger sonic booms because it must displace more air.