Chemtrails – Pt. 1 - What are they really?

View from an airplane

There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to crazy conspiracy theories. First school of thought basically says that they should not be even discussed because it gives crazy, deluded or simply hopelessly ignorant people a platform to stand on, brings them into the mainstream and validates them. In other words, this school of thought feels that the very act of talking about these theories, somehow hints that we should take them seriously.

Other school of thought basically believes that humanity needs to really actively work to get rid of the World o these unrealistic, crazy and simply put, bad ideas. It believes that if people talk about these problems long enough and simply present evidence to the contrary, conspiracy theorists will start abandoning these silly beliefs because they will now have a better explanation. Regarding the first school of thought they feel that it’s a justified risk.

Without wasting time on too much introduction, the existence of this post basically means that, after much thinking, we’re gonna give second school of thought an advantage. It simply seems that the world is in such a bad shape that some things really need to be not only disproven, but that we should strive for this to reach as many people as possible, because if science and reason don’t, ultimately there is a risk that the conspiracy theorists will. Of course, people are capable of thinking for themselves, but if they are constantly exposed to one thing, and the rebuttal is nowhere to be found …

So, we’ll start with one that’s particularly annoying: Chemtrails. This is a big topic and we can cover a lot of ground, so, we’ll for the sake of being clear enough and not bore people split it into few posts. Sorry for the long introduction, BTW, it’s just that if you’re a member of the first school of thought – that we shouldn’t give them a platform, you might want to consider switching to the second school of thought.

Chemtrails? What?

A high-flying jet's engines leaving a condensation trail (contrail)

Image by Adrian Pingstone No machine-readable author provided. No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, Link

This is an image of the condensation trail left behind by a jet’s engines. The claim that these trails that airplanes leave in the sky (if they are long lasting) are actually chemicals which are being sprayed for well, unknown purposes. The craziness often includes such claims as fighting global warming, attempts to reduce the size of the population, the idea that the US military wants to use the weather in future wars, psychological manipulation … etc.

So, in short, aircrafts do leave trails behind, but the conspiracy theorists argue that these trails are not what they actually are – a normal phenomenon, but something more sinister. In this article we’ll simply discuss what these trails really are and how do they come to exist.

This is necessary, because the fact is airplanes do leave trails behind. So, in order not to be inclined to believe something which is not true and quite honestly – is completely crazy, we need to understand the real reason why is this happening, how and why do these trails form.


USAAF 8th Air Force B-17s and their contrails

USAAF 8th Air Force B-17s and their contrails - By U.S. Army Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The normal trail left by the aircraft is called a contrail, short from condensation trail. Simply put, condensation trails form when the by-products of burning the aircraft fuel mix with cool air. The process of burning aircraft fuel leaves behind carbon dioxide and water. So, there is water vapor in the engine exhaust. This means that water droplets can form. How? Well, in essence, hot and humid air exits the engine. This is kind of like when you breathe out hot air from your lungs into the cold air outside. What happens? You provide moisture to the air, so condensation happens. This is not the whole story, as the contrail freezes in the cold air.

Note that this only served as an illustration, as it’s not the same.

Back to the contrails explanation. We have established that aircraft engines can produce water vapor. This gets out into the cold air of the environment. There is now additional hotness and humidity in the air as added by the engine exhaust. This water vapor increases humidity of air in the environment and condenses into water droplets. The solid particles also deposited by the engine exhaust help to form these droplets more quickly. This does however take some tiny amount of time, which is why contrails form not immediately after the by-products of burning fuel are created, but a bit later. This is why you see contrails forming at some distance behind the aircraft. Anyway, now we have a combination of water droplets and cold air. By cold air it’s usually meant below -30°C. When you have air that cold, this means that those water droplets freeze very quickly. So, you now have ice particles.

This is what the contrails are made from. So, in essence contrails are clouds that are formed by aircraft engine exhaust, where the process of burning aircraft fuel creates by-products which influence the air around the aircraft, increase condensation into water droplets which then freeze - forming clouds. That is it. Nothing supernatural, nothing mystical, simply basic physics.

So, now we know what is really happening and if somebody simply asks what they really are with an open mind we are able to explain it in simple terms. But this is usually not enough to disprove the conspiracy, but it is a start. Now that we know what they really are, but the next steps will be to try to list the usual conspiracy theorists’ objections to this explanation and show that these objections do not make much sense. Part of their objections and the debunking will be done in the next article in the series. So, stay tuned and do not forget to think for yourself.

Further reading:

  1. The Contrail Education Project – NASA
  2. Contrail Science
  3. Contrail – Wikipedia
  4. Contrails 101 - Federal Aviation Administration
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