There are Three Types of Contrails
At high levels in the sky, if there is enough moisture in the air, a contrail will form behind an airplane. There are three types of contrails: short-lived, persistent non-spreading, and persistent spreading.
If the air is a little bit moist, a contrail will form immediately behind the airplane and make a bright white line that lasts for a short amount of time.
Image courtesy of Carol Clark
Persistent Non-Spreading Contrails:
If the air is very moist, a contrail will form behind an airplane and stay in the sky for long time. This type of contrail will stay in the sky even after the airplane has flown away!
Image courtesy of Kirsten Meymaris
Persistent Spreading Contrails:
These contrails form when a persistent contrail spreads out. They grow wider and fuzzier and sometimes contrails they become human-made clouds!
Image courtesy of Peggy LeMone
Back to Contrails
Cloud Image Gallery
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!Cool It!
is the new card game from the Union of Concerned Scientists that teaches kids about the choices we have when it comes to climate change—and how policy and technology decisions made today will matter. Cool It! is available in our online store
You might also be interested in:
The white streaks you see coming off airplanes are called contrails. That is short for “condensation trail.” Contrails are actually clouds made by airplanes. An airplane's exhaust has some water vapor...more
Altocumulus clouds are part of the Middle Cloud group. They are grayish-white with one part of the cloud darker than the other. Altocumulus clouds usually form in groups. Altocumulus clouds are about...more
Altostratus clouds belong to the Middle Cloud group. An altostratus cloud usually covers the whole sky. The cloud looks gray or blue-gray. The sun or moon may shine through an altostratus cloud, but will...more
Cirrocumulus clouds belong to the High Cloud group. They are small rounded puffs that usually appear in long rows. Cirrocumulus are usually white, but sometimes appear gray. Cirrocumulus clouds are the...more
Cirrostratus clouds belong to the High Cloud group. They are sheetlike thin clouds that usually cover the entire sky. The sun or moon can shine through cirrostratus clouds. When looking at the sun through...more
Cirrus clouds are the most common of the High Cloud group. They are made of ice crystals and have long, thin, wispy streamers. Cirrus clouds are usually white and predict fair weather. ...more
Cumulonimbus clouds belong to the Clouds with Vertical Growth group. They are also known as thunderstorm clouds. A cumulonimbus cloud can grow up to 10km high. At this height, high winds make the top...more