A shock wave is a propagating abrupt change in a fluid's pressure (and temperature and density). They can be caused by an object moving faster than the fluid's speed of sound (or a fluid moving past something faster than its speed of sound), and can also be caused by an explosion. Shock waves travel at a faster rate than normal waves. Waves analogous to shock waves can occur in other situations, such as the breaking waves on the ocean, the analogous type of gravity waves. Shock waves create substantially more drag than "normal" waves and raise the pressure and temperature, with kinetic energy transformed into heat energy (shock heating). A sharp object moving supersonically through a fluid can create an attached shock wave (attached to the object) which is oblique, but propagates along straight lines. A blunt object causes a detached shock wave or bow shock ahead of the object. An explosion can produce a non-oblique shock wave, at right angles from the direction of motion. When the fluid is a conductor or is detonating, additional factors determine the character of a shock wave.
In astrophysics, objects passing through media faster than their sound speed, as well as explosive and/or magnetic phenomena pushing fluid past its sound speed can cause shock waves. Identifying shock waves from an astronomical distance is a challenge. One method used when observing gas clouds is to look for molecules likely formed by the heat of the shock (i.e., a shock tracer). This can be a sign of star formation. EMR appearing to be black-body radiation from a high temperature can be observable evidence of such heating, and thus of a shock wave. Physical characteristics of Earth or meteorite material that constitute evidence of a past episode of sudden heating suggest some past event that included a shock wave.
Within a plasma where magnetism is a factor (described by magnetohydrodynamics), a classification of shock waves is a C-type shock (continuous shock or slow shock) versus a J-type shock (discontinuous shock or fast shock). C-type shock waves have been modeled and the determined characteristics have been used to explain various jet, interstellar medium and molecular cloud phenomena.