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Breaking The Sound Barrier.

In 2012, Felix Baumgartner - a daredevil from Austria, made history by free falling from near space.

It was a skydive that shattered records for the highest manned-balloon flight and the highest altitude jump. Baumgartner had become the first man to break the sound barrier with just his body -- without the safety of an airplane.

A New Record

Last week, Alan Eustace, an executive at Google, broke that record by rising up to the edge of the stratosphere - to a height of 135,000 feet (or 41,000 m). Unlike Baumgartner who used a special capsule, Alan Eustace clung to a helium balloon that rose above the New Mexico desert.

Once he reached the desired height, Eustace cut the cord. His free fall lasted about five minutes, during which time he reached a peak speed of 800 miles per hour - faster than the speed of sound! Eustace deployed his parachute at 18,000 feet and floated back to the ground.

For the stunt, Eustace wore a special suit with a life support system, as did Baumgartner for his maiden jump. The reason for this is because the human body cannot survive that altitude - the thin air would make it difficult to breathe, and the vacuum in space would cause fluids in the body to boil.

Sound Barrier: For Real?

Sound as you know travels through air at the speed of 340 m/s (or 760 miles per hour). Have you seen a wave in a football stadium? Similarly, the molecules in the atmosphere vibrate when sound waves hit them. This vibration is passed on to the next molecule and the next, creating what we call a sound wave.

Is there a real, physical barrier to sound? No, the word refers to the buildup of air in front of an aircraft. When an aircraft reaches the speed of sound, air particles cannot get out of the way fast enough. This creates drag, or an opposing force which in turn creates shock waves that jolt an aircraft. The word 'sound barrier' was first coined by early 20th century aviators, as they struggled to make their aircrafts go faster.

Nowadays, aircrafts and spacecrafts routinely break the sound barrier. When the speed of sound of a moving body is the same as that of sound, it is said to be Mach 1. Alan Eustace reached a speed of Mach 1.23.

Was There A Sonic Boom?

You may have heard of sonic booms - or shock waves, produced when an object crosses the speed of sound. Eustace did not feel it when he broke the sound barrier. But the ground crew observing the event, certainly heard the resulting sonic boom. This is similar to if you were standing on a dock, and a speed boat went by faster than the speed of waves. It would generate a wake and you would feel it. However, given the size and the altitude, any shock waves would have dissipated quickly.

Courtesy Guardian, NY Times

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Title Annotation:Science
Geographic Code:1U8NM
Date:Oct 27, 2014
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