In physics, a shock wave (also spelled shockwave), or shock, is a type of propagating disturbance. When a wave moves faster than the local speed of sound in a fluid it is a shock wave. Like an ordinary wave, a shock wave carries energy, and can propagate through a medium; however it is characterized by an abrupt, nearly discontinuous change in pressure, temperature and density of the medium. In supersonic flows, expansion is achieved through an expansion fan also known as a Prandtl-Meyer expansion fan.
Unlike solitons (another kind of nonlinear wave), the energy of a shock wave dissipates relatively quickly with distance. Also, the accompanying expansion wave approaches and eventually merges with the shock wave, partially cancelling it out. Thus the sonic boom associated with the passage of a supersonic aircraft is the sound wave resulting from the degradation and merging of the shock wave and the expansion wave produced by the aircraft.
When a shock wave passes through matter, energy is preserved but entropy increases. This change in the matter's properties manifests itself as a decrease in the energy which can be extracted as work, and as a drag force on supersonic objects; shock waves are strongly irreversible processes.
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