Debunking Conspiracy Theories – Chemtrails – Pt. 2–Why do some contrails last longer?

View from an airplane

Image by Fuzz/Pixabay.

So, to continue what I started on June 24 – (not even three full months ago ) – I now return to the Chemtrails conspiracy. Last time together we took a look what are Chemtrails really.

To summarize quickly, just in case you are not interested in visiting the part 1., aircraft do leave trails behind. But they are actually a phenomenon that occurs when the byproducts 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 vapour 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. By cold air it’s usually meant below -30°C. When you have air that cold, that means that those water droplets freeze very quickly. So, you now have ice particles. This is what the contrails are made from.


It all sounds logical, doesn’t it? It should, as the basic things are not that complicated. If you try to explain it using non-fancy terms even very young people can understand it. And not only that but plenty of conspiracy theorists do agree that there is such thing as contrails. What they are arguing is that sometimes – it’s not contrails, because well, various reasons. Either contrail stays a bit longer, or they look different from what these people imagine they should look like .. or yet something else. So, let’s try to tackle these objections … some now, some in the next post.

Let’s go.

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 takes a look 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 have to 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.”


Basically – every “Chemtrail” claim or sighting is basically only a harmless contrail – and people arguing that it’s not are 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 – “I 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 does this happen and why do such contrails get mistaken for something sinister.

Types of contrails

  1. Short-lived contrails

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

    Short-lived contrail

  2. Persistent, but not spreading contrails

    They look like long white lines, similar to short-lived contrails, but they remain visible after the aeroplane has disappeared. WHY? Well, the explanation is basically quite simple. The atmospheric conditions are different. The air is very humid and there is a large amount of water vapour available. Remember how contrails form, we explored this in part 1. 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.

  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 various 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 very similar to the process of forming "Cirrus uncinus clouds".


    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, basically, there are different forms of contrails. Most conspiracy theorists would basically 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 also spreading because of different wind speeds in the area. So, persistent contrails which move in the presence of strong 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 relatively 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 different types. But, strictly speaking, 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, despite the fact that 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 by definition back it up with evidence. If they offer no physical evidence – they have no case basically, because as the brilliant late Christopher Hitchens would say:

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

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 counter-arguments 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 actually not true. So, until next time – remember to think critically.

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