When a jet flies high into the upper atmosphere, the engines leave streaks of condensation known as contrails. However, for several years, conspiracy theorists have been convinced these fluffy white trails are something much more sinister. Renaming them “chemtrails,” some have speculated they contain toxic chemicals which are purposely being sprayed in the atmosphere by the government as part of some wicked plan.
Wanting to end the controversy of the chemtrails conspiracy theory once and for all, the journal Environmental Research Letters sent a survey out to aviation experts and chemists with specialized knowledge of contrails. The questionnaire was also sent to researchers that have a unique understanding of how dust and pollution deposits react with the Earth’s atmosphere.
The results were not necessarily surprising, but possibly disappointing to conspiracy theorists. Of the 77 scientists who responded to the survey, 76 said the high heat expelled from jet engines immediately crystalizes water in the atmosphere, essentially turning it to ice. According to the experts, contrails are just clouds and nothing else. So, in other words, no secret government program designed to spew dangerous chemicals into the air.
“We wanted to establish a scientific record on the topic of secret atmospheric spraying programs for the benefit of those in the public who haven’t made up their minds,” said Steven Davis, an Earth Systems scientist at UC Irvine. “The experts we surveyed resoundingly rejected contrail photographs and test results as evidence of a large-scale atmospheric conspiracy.”
Of course, some may disagree with the survey’s findings and accuse the respondents of being paid by the government to dispute the chemtrails theory. However, one has to wonder what the 77th scientist said since it was excluded from the report published in the journal. On the other hand, if the government wanted to poison the population, wouldn’t it be done in a less conspicuous way?
Ever since the first jets starting flying in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, contrails became a common sight in the air. In recent years, the number of commercial flights flying at higher altitudes has increased to make room for the greater number of planes in the air. More high-flying aircraft likely explains the significantly higher number of contrails visible in the sky, yet conspiracy theorists still say something else is going on.
Depending on which conspiracy expert is talking, the chemtrails are made up of substances designed to do one of several things, none of them good. Some say the chemicals are being used to regulate the food supply, while others believe they control weather patterns. Still others are convinced the chemtrails are a way to shrink the human population or even moderate global warming.
“Despite the persistence of erroneous theories about atmospheric chemical spraying programs, until now there were no peer-reviewed academic studies showing that what some people think are chemtrails are just ordinary contrails,” said Carnegie investigator and co-author Ken Caldeira. “Also, it is possible that climate change is causing contrails to persist for longer than they used to.”
The popularity of the chemtrails theory has grown alongside the mounting distrust of social intuitions and the government. Also contributing to the theory’s wider acceptance is the increased access to the internet.
“The chemtrails conspiracy theory maps pretty closely to the origin and growth of the internet, where you can still find a number of websites that promote this particular brand of pseudoscience,” said Davis. “Our survey found little agreement in the scientific community with claims that the government, the military, airlines and others are colluding in a widespread, nefarious program to poison the planet from the skies.”
The chemtrails conspiracy theory has become so popular that even celebrities are getting on board with it. Kylie Jenner and Billy Corgan have used their fame to spread support of the idea. Despite the increased awareness and acceptance of the controversial theory, experts were unable to unveil any secret plot by the government hiding in the clouds.
[Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]