There are Three Types of Contrails
At high altitudes, 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 somewhat moist, a contrail will form right behind the airplane and make a bright white line that lasts for a short while.
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 long after the airplane has flown out of sight. It can last for a few minutes or longer than a day, and it keeps its shape of a thin line.
Image courtesy of Kirsten Meymaris
Persistent Spreading Contrails:
These contrails form when a persistent contrail spreads out. They grow wider and fuzzier as time passes. Sometimes contrails will actually take on the characteristics of a natural cirrus cloud and no longer look like contrails, so 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 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...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
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
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