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.

Short-lived Contrails:

If the air is somewhat moist, a contrail will form immediately 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 remain 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


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Last modified June 6, 2008 by Becca Hatheway.

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