There are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to crazy conspiracy theories. First school of thought 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 believes that humanity needs to 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 means that, after much thinking, we’re going to give second school of thought an advantage.

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, 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?

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 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.

Aircraft Contrails

So, in short, aircrafts do leave trails behind, but the conspiracy theorists argue that these trails are not what they 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 is this happening, how and why do these trails form.


Aircraft Contrails during WWII
USAAF 8th Air Force B-17s and their contrails – By U.S. Army Air Force [Public domain]

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 hot and humid air exits the engine. This is like when you breathe out warm air from your lungs into the frigid 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 freezing 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 frigid 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 freezing air. By freezing 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, 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 can 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.

Why do some contrails last for different periods of time?

One of the loudest objections mentioned previously is that while, yes, contrails do exist, they are not persistent – meaning they should dissipate almost immediately. Because some versions do not dissipate immediately – these are not contrails, but actually, Chemtrails – meaning the chemicals governments use to “spray us like bugs”.

This is blatantly WRONG. Contrails sometimes DO persist. This can be seen in the literature, explained by scientists, explained by NASA, visible in historic pictures, etc. So, let’s start with this video which looks at various books about clouds, dating back 70 years. They all agree – Contrails DO persist. Are all those authors “bought” by the government – or what? If they are going to argue that – well, first they must resolve an internal inconsistency within their own ranks.

Because, you know, some of them say that Chemtrails weren’t even a thing before the 1990s. According to this article, everything started in 1996! So, how can authors from 70 years ago have been brought to say that, when Chemtrails weren’t even a thing then? Were they planning to do it 50 years before? Anyway, here is the video, made by

So, it’s not a matter of trusting the individual scientists or government agencies, or NASA. Scientists and from all over and during many years are saying the same thing. Contrails sometimes DO persist. So, it should be clear that contrails can persist. Arguments that contrails do not persist have been dismissed by scientists.

“Such trails are normal water-based contrails (condensation trails) that are routinely left by high-flying aircraft under certain atmospheric conditions.”– Wikipedia

Basically – every “Chemtrail” claim or sighting is only a harmless contrail – and people arguing that it is not making an argument from incredulity. Argument from incredulity goes like this:

P1: One can’t imagine how X could be true.

P2: – If X is true, then one could imagine how X could be true.

C1: X is false.– RationalWiki

To put this in simpler terms, it goes like this – “personally cannot see how it could have happened, so it did not.

And that, my friends, is a fallacy. Just because you couldn’t understand it, that doesn’t mean it’s not true. But the fact is, whole contrail thing is not even that difficult to understand. You only need to have an open mind and be willing to look at the evidence and listen to what scientists are saying. Of course, if you start from a premise that you do not believe something, you will try hard to find arguments to undermine it. But this means you are not completely honest with yourself, but simply wish to have your previous opinion validated.

I know that my audience is rational, so I will try from refraining using proposition “you” and will use proposition “they”.

So, if we accept that there are contrails which can stay longer than few minutes, let’s see why this happens and why do such contrails get mistaken for something sinister.

Types of contrails

Short-Lived Contrail
image by Hans/Pixabay

1. Short-lived contrails

“Disappearing almost as fast as the aeroplane goes across the sky, lasting only a few minutes or less. The air that the aeroplane is passing through is moist, and there is only a small amount of water vapour available to form a contrail. The ice particles that do form quickly return to a vapour state.” – NASA

2. Persistent, but not spreading contrails

They look like long white lines, like short-lived contrails, but they remain visible after the aeroplane has disappeared. WHY? Well, the explanation is quite simple. The atmospheric conditions are different. The air is very humid and there is a large amount of water vapour available.

Perrsistent, not spreading

As Wikipedia says – If the atmosphere is near saturation, the contrail may exist for some time. Conversely, if the atmosphere is dry, the contrail will dissipate quickly.

For more images of these types of Contrails visit the Contrail Chart at The Contrail Education Project – NASA.

3. Persistent, spreading Contrails

This is the type that is likely to cause most alarm, areas they are spreading. The spreading can happen because ice crystals come in diverse sizes, some are smaller, some are bigger, so they get down at different rates – and when you combine that with different wind speeds you get various degrees of spreading. If you have a lot of air traffic in that area, the effect can become very noticeable. Wikipedia says that the formation of these types of contrails is remarkably like the process of forming “Cirrus uncinus clouds“.

Persistent, spreading

Contrails can have a lateral spread of several kilometres, and given sufficient air traffic, it is possible for contrails to create an entirely overcast sky that increases the ice budget of individual contrails and persists for hours. – Wikipedia.

For more images of these types of Contrails visit the Contrail Chart at The Contrail Education Project – NASA.

So, there are different forms of contrails. Most conspiracy theorists would agree that only type 1 – which dissipates quickly is a contrail. However, this is wrong.

If there is more moisture, there is a larger amount of vapour available – so a longer contrail will form because there are more droplets to freeze into the ice particles. By the very definition, it makes sense that these are more permanent than ones that form in areas with less moisture. More ice in the more humid air stays longer than less ice in the less humid air because the particles do not return so quickly to the vapour state.

Third, we have a type which is persistent and spreading because of different wind speeds in the area. So, persistent contrails which move in the presence of fierce winds – and you get persistent, spreading contrails.


Now we know why Chemtrail conspiracy exists. People see contrails and they think – they are spraying us when the explanation is simple if they are only willing to consider it. We have explored what are Chemtrails really and the most common objection to why the contrail explanation is not satisfactory to them. But we have also seen that the conspiracy theorists are wrong and that persistent contrails do exist and why do they exist. So – we have established a case for the phenomenon we have all been seeing in our skies and now know what causes it and what are diverse types.

But we have debunked very few claims – because it’s still theoretically possible that not everything is a harmless contrail. The fact that contrails can explain everything doesn’t strictly mean that they do indeed explain everything – so a crazy conspiracy theorist can still offer various insane theories about what they really are, even though we have a much BETTER and SIMPLER explanation.

But even with only this knowledge, we can and should demand EVIDENCE for their claims about Chemtrails – because as we all know – they are the ones making a claim – and the one making a claim must back it up with evidence. If they offer no physical evidence – they have no case, because as the brilliant late Christopher Hitchens would say:

What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence

Christopher Hitchens

So, after this, if a conspiracy theorist gives us no evidence, we can simply dismiss their claims and walk with our heads held high. However, it is possible that we might want to try and persuade them or debunk even their claims. This is indeed possible, so it’s not even necessary to stop at the real explanation and basic debunking of their claims. We can even go further and offer counterarguments to everything they offer.

In a next post in the series, we’ll deal with claims that scientific tests have revealed that chemicals have indeed been sprayed. We’ll see that this is not true. So, until next time – remember to think critically.

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