The good people of New Jersey got a bit of a scare on Thursday with many reporting feeling tremors that they feared were an earthquake. It turns out, the rattling windows, shaking homes, and other signs of an earthquake were the result of a series of sonic booms from military aircraft flying off the eastern seaboard. The U.S. Geological Survey tallied at least nine sonic booms, which often sound like thunder when an aircraft breaks the speed of sound, during a 90-minute stretch beginning at approximately 1:20 p.m.
Testing of Naval aircraft was the likely cause, according to a Navy statement:
"Aircraft from Naval Test Wing Atlantic were conducting routine flight testing in the Atlantic Test Ranges this afternoon that included activities which may have resulted in sonic booms. The test wing is critical to the safe test and evaluation of all types of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft in service and in development and is primarily based out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Other military aircraft, including both Navy and Air Force, also frequently use the ranges for testing and training."
Since the USGS had everyone’s attention, they took the opportunity to do a science Tweetsplainer:
Since many have asked: A sonic boom travels through the air w/ the airplane so it arrives at different ground locations at different times.— USGS (@USGS) January 28, 2016
NASA has more for inquiring minds:
A sonic boom is the thunder-like noise a person on the ground hears when an aircraft or other type of aerospace vehicle flies overhead faster than the speed of sound or supersonic. Air reacts like a fluid to supersonic objects. As objects travel through the air, the air molecules are pushed aside with great force and this forms a shock wave much like a boat creates a bow wave. The bigger and heavier the aircraft, the more air it displaces.
And for all of you visual learners out there: