A sonic boom is the sound associated with the shock waves created by an object traveling through the air faster than the speed of sound. Sonic booms generate enormous amounts of sound energy, sounding much like an explosion. The crack of a supersonic bullet passing overhead is an example of a sonic boom in miniature.

The white halo formed by condensed water droplets is thought to result from a drop in air pressure around the aircraft at transonic speeds.

When an object passes through the air it creates a series of pressure waves in front of it and behind it, similar to the bow and stern waves created by a boat. These waves travel at the speed of sound, and as the speed of the object increases, the waves are forced together, or compressed, because they cannot get out of the way of each other, eventually merging into a single shock wave at the speed of sound. This critical speed is known as Mach 1 and is approximately 1,225 km/h (761 mph) at sea level and 20 °C (68 °F). In smooth flight, the shock wave starts at the nose of the aircraft and ends at the tail. Because radial directions around the aircraft's direction of travel are equivalent, the shock forms a Mach cone with the aircraft at its tip.

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Some common whips such as the bullwhip or sparewhip are able to move faster than sound: the tip of the whip breaks the sound barrier and causes a sharp crack—literally a sonic boom. Firearms since the 19th century have generally had a supersonic muzzle velocity.