This photograph shows many contrails in the sky near Sutherland, NE (November 2004).
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of Susan Gallagher
The white streaks you see coming off high-flying jet airplanes are called contrails, which is short for condensation trail. Contrails are clouds
that formed when water vapor condenses and freezes around small particles that exist in aircraft exhaust. The water vapor comes from the air around the plane and the exhaust of the aircraft.
Some contrails evaporate quickly while others stay in the sky for a long time after the airplane is gone. These contrails can become human-made cirrus clouds. Contrails last longer when there is a greater amount of water in the air; they last until the water in the clouds evaporates.
There are three types of contrails: short-lived, persistent non-spreading, and persistent spreading.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist
, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store
You might also be interested in:
One process which transfers water from the ground back to the atmosphere is evaporation. Evaporation is when water passes from a liquid phase to a gas phase. Rates of evaporation of water depend on things...more
Cirrus clouds are the most common of the High Cloud (5000-13000m) group. They are composed entirely of ice and consist of long, thin, wispy streamers. They are commonly known as "mare's tails" because...more
Altocumulus clouds are part of the Middle Cloud group (2000-7000m up). They are grayish-white with one part of the cloud darker than the other. Altocumulus clouds usually form in groups and are about...more
Altostratus belong to the Middle Cloud group (2000-7000m up). An altostratus cloud usually covers the whole sky and has a gray or blue-gray appearance. The sun or moon may shine through an altostratus...more
Cirrocumulus clouds belong to the High Cloud group (5000-13000m). They are small rounded puffs that usually appear in long rows. Cirrocumulus are usually white, but sometimes appear gray. Cirrocumulus...more
Cirrostratus clouds belong to the High Cloud (5000-13000m) group. They are sheetlike thin clouds that usually cover the entire sky. The sun or moon can shine through cirrostratus clouds . Sometimes, the...more
Cumulonimbus clouds belong to the Clouds with Vertical Growth group. They are generally known as thunderstorm clouds. A cumulonimbus cloud can grow up to 10km high. At this height, high winds will flatten...more