So this is what the red death looks like when the mask comes off. Or maybe what the fog monster from Lost looks like when it gets some pizzazz. Actually, this swirling vortex of crimson death is a NASA test that lets technicians observe the air disturbance behind a plane.
It's of great value to know what airplanes do to the air they move through it, since we probably won't be going back to trains anytime soon. To this end, NASA does a lot of tests to see how air moves over and around a plane. In this test they used a great deal of colored smoke to help them see the motion of the air. That giant swirling vortex in the middle of it all is why planes are not allowed to land one right after the other — the very last thing you want in the middle of this swirl is another plane.
It would, however, be useful to get a plane as close as possible to the vortex. This test was part of a series of studies done in the 1990s aimed at increasing the efficiency of airports, and getting as many planes as possible on and off the runway. At the very least, we got some very cool images out of it.