I was trying to explain to someone how a sonic boom works when a jet breaks the sound barrier. Usually when I do that once, I like to document it here on the blog. In this case, I actually found a great video that lays it all out!
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 kilometers per hour (761 mph) at sea level.
Now, if you want to make your own sonic boom, just go to a western store and pick up a bull whip. When you crack the whip you’re actually putting enough energy into the tip that it travels faster than the speed of sound. In fact, he whip was the first human invention to break the sound barrier.