Normal shock wave

Shock wave


Shock waves can be:

In supersonic flows

Due to nonlinear steepening

Shock waves can form due to steepening of ordinary waves. The best-known example of this phenomenon is ocean waves that form breakers on the shore. In shallow water, the speed of surface waves is dependent on the depth of the water. An incoming ocean wave has a slightly higher wave speed near the crest of each wave than near the troughs between waves, because the wave height is not infinitesimal compared to the depth of the water. The crests overtake the troughs until the leading edge of the wave forms a vertical face and spills over to form a turbulent shock (a breaker) that dissipates the wave's energy as sound and heat.

Similar phenomena affect strong sound waves in gas or plasma, due to the dependence of the sound speed on temperature and pressure. Strong waves heat the medium near each pressure front, due to adiabatic compression of the air itself, so that high pressure fronts outrun the corresponding pressure troughs. While shock formation by this process does not normally happen to sound waves in Earth's atmosphere, it is thought to be one mechanism by which the solar chromosphere and corona are heated, via waves that propagate up from the solar interior.


A shock wave may be described as the furthest point upstream of a moving object which "knows" about the approach of the object. In this description, the shock wave position is defined as the boundary between the zone having no information about the shock-driving event, and the zone aware of the shock-driving event, analogous with the light cone described in the theory of special relativity.

To get a shock wave something has to be travelling faster than the local speed of sound. In that case some parts of the air around the aircraft are travelling at exactly the speed of sound with the aircraft, so that the sound waves leaving the aircraft pile up on each other, similar to a tailback on a road, and a shock wave forms, the pressure increases, and then spreads out sideways. Because of this amplification effect, a shock wave is very intense, more like an explosion when heard (not coincidentally, since explosions create shock waves).

Analogous phenomena are known outside fluid mechanics. For example, particles accelerated beyond the speed of light in a refractive medium (where the speed of light is less than that in a vacuum, such as water) create visible shock effects, a phenomenon known as Cherenkov radiation.


Below are a number of examples of shock waves, broadly grouped with similar shock phenomena:

Moving shock

Detonation wave

Detached shock

Attached shock

Recompression shock

Shock in a pipe flow

Shock waves in rapid granular flows

Shock waves can also occur in rapid flows of dense granular materials down inclined channels or slopes. Strong shocks in rapid dense granular flows can be studied theoretically and analyzed to compare with experimental data. Consider a configuration in which the rapidly moving material down the chute impinges on an obstruction wall erected perpendicular at the end of a long and steep channel. Impact leads to a sudden change in the flow regime from a fast moving supercritical thin layer to a stagnant thick heap. This flow configuration is particularly interesting because it is analogous to some hydraulic and aerodynamic situations associated with flow regime changes from supercritical to subcritical flows. Such study is important in estimating impact pressures exerted by avalanches and granular flows on defense structures or infrastructure along the channel and in the run-out zones, and to study the complex flow dynamics around the obstacles and in depositions when the mass comes suddenly to a standstill.

Shock waves in astrophysics

See also


Further reading

External links

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