Why do airplanes leave a white trail when they fly?

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Have you ever noticed that airplanes leave a white trail when they fly? Have you ever wondered what that is? The condensation trail left behind jet aircrafts is called contrails. They are line-shaped clouds produced by aircraft engine exhaust, typically at aircraft cruise altitudes several miles above the Earth’s surface.

How do contrails form?

  • Contrails form when hot humid air from jet exhaust mixes with environmental air of low vapor pressure and low temperature.
  • The combination of water vapor in aircraft engine exhaust and the low ambient temperatures that exist at high altitudes allows the formation of the trails.
  • The water vapor contained in the jet exhaust condenses and may freeze, and this mixing process forms a cloud very similar to the one your hot breath makes on a cold day.
  • Depending on a planes altitude, and the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere, contrails may vary in their thickness, extent and duration.

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