Trails in the Sky: Contrails or Chemtrails?


I must admit that back in the nineties, I listened to Art Bell quite a bit on the radio.  He did a nightly talk show called Coast to Coast AM, which started at midnight and continued for hours, until about 5 AM if memory serves.  This was no problem for me because I was working third shift at the time, and it helped the night go by quickly.  For those who don’t know Art or don’t remember him, his show was always about UFOs, atmospheric rods, reverse speech, remote viewing, Area 51, ghosts – you get the idea.  I suppose one of the reasons I enjoyed Art’s show so much was that he never seemed fully committed to what he was talking about; he would have call-in guests who were “experts” in their particular theories, and would merely ask questions of them, letting them put themselves out there (yes, I meant it that way) while he listened and commented frequently.

Art Bell, former host of radio talk show Coast to Coast AM

Art Bell, former host of radio talk show Coast to Coast AM

Although I don’t buy into any of the myriad topics he addressed,* I enjoyed listening to him anyway because he sounded so… well, reasonable.  And, he was just fun and interesting to listen to.  One of the things I heard him talk about was chemtrails.  I had always known what contrails were and why airliners leave them, but chemtrails?  That was a new one to me.

For quite sometime now, I haven’t heard any talk of chemtrails until recently when I’ve been online at Twitter and have seen a couple of references to them by people linking to articles about them.  It got my curiosity up again, so I read some of what was posted online.

The idea is that some of those trails we see in the sky every day aren’t really condensation trails after all – they’re chemical trails intentionally introducing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere for nefarious purposes.  Who’s behind it all?  Opinions vary, but many, if not most people who believe in chemtrails say it’s the government.  And perhaps not only the United States government, but others as well.

According to the adherents of this theory, sometime around 1995 jet contrails began to have a different composition and lasted longer before dissipating.  It’s believed that barium, thorium, silicon carbide, and other elements or chemicals are being released behind jets.  Primarily commercial airliners, although perhaps there are other planes that are sent aloft for the sole purpose of releasing chemicals; not over a wide flight path, but over a limited area such as a city.  Various reasons are given for this spraying of chemicals, which run the gamut from the mildly plausible to the utterly absurd.  Some chemtrail theorists claim the reason it’s being done is an attempt at climate engineering.  Or possibly that they’re for psychological manipulation of the public, or sterilization agents to induce massive population control.  Still others claim the sky is being seeded with electrically conductive materials as part of an electromagnetic weapons program by the military, or that it’s a sinister plot by Monsanto to poison the environment so only their genetically modified seeds will grow.  In what I’ve found to be the most laughable “theory” yet, it has even been suggested in a tongue-in-cheek manner that precision flying teams like the Royal Air Force Red Arrows, who use colored smoke during their air shows, are trying to turn the audience gay!

RAF Red Arrows, 2010 Photo by Amy Lloyd

RAF Red Arrows, 2010 Photo by Amy Lloyd

Contrails, a contraction of condensation trails, are a much different phenomenon, and the explanation is simple.  Jet engine exhaust is very hot, and among the usual by-products of the engine exhaust such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and sulfate, it also contains a certain amount of water vapor.  Due to the altitudes at which commercial airliners fly, the air is extremely cold, usually well below -40º Fahrenheit.  Almost immediately upon being expelled, the water vapor condenses into liquid, then into ice particles.  These ice crystals form the narrow cloud that we call contrails.  If the air around the plane is dry, the trail will dissipate soon, but if the air is more humid, the trails tend to linger for quite some time.  That’s really all there is to it.  Contrails are caused by the physics of what happens at high altitudes, whereas chemtrails, by everything I’ve been able to find out, are nothing more than a fiction dreamed up by conspiracy theorists.

Assuming for a minute that chemtrails were real, just remember that once again you’d have to have the cooperation and consent of tens of thousands of airline pilots worldwide, not to mention all the government officials and employees who were behind it.  These people would have to breathe the same air you and I breathe, eat the same foods we eat, and suffer the same consequences we would suffer.  It wouldn’t make sense.  The simplest explanation is almost always the right one.  Occam’s razor, folks.



*Although I dismissed most of the topics out of hand that were discussed on Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM, I did take it upon myself to do some reading on some of his topics of discussion, along with finding out a little more about some of his guests.  I still remain unconvinced, in large part because of the usual problem with these scenarios – lack of supporting evidence.  As Carl Sagan once observed, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.

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