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Bob Berman

Bob Berman’s Strange Universe

White Lines in the Sky: A Conspiracy?

Satellite photo of contrails over the US.Posted March 10, 2009 – As we all know, a jet doesn’t leave a white trail when it takes off. Nor does one appear when it’s low. But when it climbs high into very cold air the story changes.

Jets burn kerosene. If you’ve ever used a kerosene heater, you’ve smelled exhaust products rising from the unit. These include water vapor, bits of carbon soot, some carbon compounds like methane, and trace amounts of impurities like metals. Well, when jets climb above 30,000 feet, the air is so cold at -40° that the exhaust’s water vapor instantly freezes into ice crystals. This is a contrail, a short white line behind the jet’s engines. It often dissipates in seconds as each crystal sublimates back to invisible vapor.
Jets even higher up zoom through such cold air, it takes a long time for the contrail ice to re-vaporize. Higher humidity can preserve it, too. The contrail lingers as a long white line across the entire sky. Winds often distort these into various curves. If the air mass is very humid, the exhaust’s soot particles enter the picture to act as condensation nuclei — like cloud seeding — to produce a thicker contrail as surrounding atmospheric vapor freezes as well.

In seconds the dense ice crystal formation spreads out and widens. It can expand into a long cloud that casts an odd shadow. Or, very rarely, in very high humidity, the contrail can act as the “starter yogurt” for a cloud covering the entire sky. People into meteorology have observed all these various contrail varieties since the 1930s. Contrail science is even taught in college courses, to show how an individual can assess the temperature and humidity at high altitudes.

These man-made pencil clouds reflect sunlight into space. Just a few years ago scientists were concerned that all the jet traffic would have a cooling effect on the planet. But global warming has made that issue go away. If anything, jet contrails are now seen as helpful.

Some folks regard contrails suspiciously. Apparently, many don’t know what they are. Several websites call the lines chemtrails, and think that the US military is deliberately spraying a substance upon the population.

This is silly for a number of reasons. First, if you’ve ever watched crop dusting you know that chemicals must be released very close to the ground. Released on high, they’d dissipate with the wind and take forever to get down; the concentration on the folks below would be zero. Second, my commercial pilot friends (along with the controllers at the FAA) would all have to go along with the plot, since they’d see the process happening. I’m a pilot and airplane owner myself: It’s NOT happening. Third, what would be the purpose? Some say mind control. But are people acting differently lately? Others say it’s to sow disease. But why would anyone want to do this? Who would go along with it? Finally, some say “chemtrails” are a government project to combat global warming. Nice, but then why should such a laudible effort be kept secret? Other web-based “explanations” involve even wackier stuff like electromagnetic rays.

Logic never placates the truly paranoid, and discussions are rarely satisfying. Those who “believe” WANT to believe, and claim soil tests show that dangerous substances have been found beneath the planes. But again, nothing released from 40,000 feet would ever reach the ground except diluted to zero. And, more to the point, the videos of these supposed “chemtrails” shown on the scare web sites are actually a common type of contrail. The believers claim they’ve only started around 1998 – but I’ve observed those “spreading out” contrails for over 40 years. They’re not new. They’re contrails. No mystery, and nothing sinister here at all.

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10 Responses

  1. michelle says:

    thanks for helping me wave off the delusions of grandeur, paranoid conclusion, and pointless, fear-based thinking which my father possessed. This very negatively affected my young, impressionable mind for years.
    Today, as a 40-something, I find great pleasure in debunking many false theories which i clutched as absolute truth.
    I thoroughly enjoy deflating the conspiracy-laden type of thinking which tends to suck all energy from one’s soul. A pleasure to find your website via the Old Farmer’s Almanac! Thanks for explaining truth, which is much easier sailing than the darkness i grew up with, and sadly,continue to hear from many, today.

  2. jon says:

    THATS A LIE. THE LINES IN THE SKY ARE SOME TYPE LIQUIDE SCATTERED IN THE SKY. I USED TO WORK AS A CHEMIST FOR THE GOVERNMENT. I WAS ASKED BY THE GOVERNMENT TO MAKE A INHALABLE LIQUIDE THAT CALMES THE HUMAN BODY. THE DRUG I BELIEVED NOW USED IS CALLED COMPOUNED 29, COMPOUNED 48, COMPOUNED 112 COMPOUNED 11. THIS CALMES THE HUMAN BODY IF INHALED. BUT THE DRUG IS TOTALLY SAFE TO USE. THE GOVERNMENT SPENDS ABOUT 10 BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR TO DO THIS. ONE WORD OF ADVICE TO EVERYONE WHO READS THIS, DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE GOVERNMENT. THAY HERE, THAY WATCH, THAY KNOW

  3. Jake says:

    jon, at least “THAY” know how to spell. And if you were truly intelligent enough to work with such chemicals, you would not be dumb enough to misspell words. I am a pilot also, with common sense. It’s not a conspiracy. But one thing I do know, and I read this from a Jeppesen book, I believe, is that after 9/11 when they landed all the jets, the average temperature of the US went up. I thought it was intriguing.

  4. Lane says:

    Hi,

    Contrail actually is short hand for condensation trail. And with all due respect, they actually don’t happen right away. I have taken numerous photos of contrails, and they generally don’t form for about 1/2 of the plane length. The exhaust gases have to cool enough for the water vapor to freeze.

    Some other interesting effects are the ways in which the trails combine. Some four engine planes have engines rotating in the same direction, so the trails combine in a non-symetrical pattern, while others with opposite rotations leave a symmetrical pattern. Planes with three engines (one in the tail of the fuselage) leave a trail with a “peak” on the top. (I watched as we flew parallel to one going into New York).

    The 9/11 story was confirmed by NOAA. After the planes stopped flying the average air temperature rose by approximately 2.7 degrees, (less reflection back out to space), followed by a 2.7 degree drop after the “skies” were “filled” once again with the ice formed by the water vapor.

    Thank you Bob for a wonderful series of well written observational tales about physics in easy language.

    (PS For the conspiracists, think about how willing the airlines would be to adding extra weight… of anything…)

  5. Ian says:

    Wow I have been wondering what these white “clouds” in the sky were ever sence I was a kid. Now I know.

    Awesome.

  6. Michael says:

    Hello hahahaha! LMAO it’s Gas discharge, and it does stay in our atmosphere until it rains, then eventually hits the ground, Half soaks in, half evaporates back in to our atmosphere. It can’t leave our atmosphere, because nothing or Nobody can leave our atmosphere. That theory of people going to space in space shuttles is a crock a crap in my opinion. Believe what you want, just keep faith in the LORD, and stop worrying about things.

  7. Queen Sheets says:

    Attractive component to content. I just stumbled upon your blog and in accession capital to say that I get actually loved account your weblog posts. Any way I will be subscribing on your feeds or even I success you get entry to persistently rapidly.

  8. Breezy says:

    Jake says the temperature of the planet increased when all the jets were grounded. Well here another 1. So did the attitudes of the population. U DO THE
    MATH. I’m just sayN

  9. john says:

    I would believe contrails were natural if I hadnt seen one with my own two eyes at a altitute well below 40,000 ft. probably half that height. It was clearly not a contrail. So dont believe everything you hear

  10. Kevin says:

    I lived on a farm few miles from a airport where atleast 5 jets take off per day standing in the field you could watch the planes gain hight then suddenly at a certain hight a white line would start to form behind the plane and yes it is formed from vapors from the engine if you use a telescope with much difficulty you can actually track the plane see how it forms… and seriously if you think it’s some mind control stuff they’re spraying clearly using an engine burning at such high temperatures to scatter it wont work will be burnt off almost instantaneously. nuff said

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