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Where do contrails come from?

  1. Jan 14, 2006 #1


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    Where do contrails come from??

    I have known many answers but none seems to fit my situation.

    On Guam, we have a busy commercial airport, an air force base, and a navy air base... and NO contrails. NONE. Where do contrails come from.

    "Why, they come from the back of planes Mk." No, I don't want that answer.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 14, 2006 #2

    Lemme ask my aero-engineering friends tomorrow, i'll get back to you.
  4. Jan 14, 2006 #3


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    Gold Member

    I think its condensation because of low pressure building up behind the aircraft but i'm not certain.
  5. Jan 14, 2006 #4
    Contrails happen when the exhaust from jetplanes become saturated in the air. This happens if the vapor pressure and temperature of the exhaust as it leaves the plane and and while it comes to equilibrium with the atmospheric vapor pressure and temperature meets the necessary conditions for saturation.

    This page has a graphic:

    Since Guam is fairly close to the equator, its atmospheric temperature at jet plane height might be great enough such that there is not enough vapor pressure to saturate in the air.
  6. Jan 14, 2006 #5
    i don't know what a contrail is.
  7. Jan 14, 2006 #6


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    Good for you.

    Errr... I mean http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/wxwise/class/contrail.html has a picture, its the clouds that planes leave behind.

    Ahh, yes that sounds good. Guam is only 14˚ up from the equator.
  8. Jan 14, 2006 #7


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    It's the moisture in the combustion gases that condenses. I have seen contrails overhead since my area gets a lot of air traffic from Boston and the NE airports, and international flights into NY. However, contrails do not always form. That is a matter of air temperature as Jelfish indicated, in which case the combustion gases dissipate before condensing into the appropriate size droplets. I have been in commercial jets and seen other commercial jets flying underneath or overhead in the opposite direction (which is pretty amazing to see), and there were no contrails. That's more the case in the summer than during the cooler fall, winter and spring periods.

    Typcial altitudes for big commerical jet aircraft are about 8000-12300 m (26000 - 40000 ft) over land, with slightly higher altitudes over the ocean (10000-14000 m) for transcontinental flights. Short range flights tend to be at the lower altitudes to minimize congestion of the airspace.
  9. Jan 14, 2006 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    Well, a matter of temperature and humidity....
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