Schlieren photography, a technique used to visualize shockwaves, is used to great effect in this image of a [YOUR GUESS HERE], captured by researchers Kim Vandiver and Harold Edgerton. (Hit the jump for the answer, as well as the full image.)
Answer: It's a .22 caliber bullet, piercing a soap bubble. Did you guess right? If not, don't feel bad – my first guess was "spray-paint space art." Either way, pretty beautiful, no?
A soap bubble is pierced by a .22 caliber bullet, creating a shock wave. Different gasses were introduced into the bubbles in order to study the varying speed of sound through different media. The myriad refractions make the bubble resemble a living organism. The photograph required a highly complicated technique to make visible regions of varying refraction and varying density of air.