The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Scientists tell the world: ‘Chemtrails’ are not real

All together now: There is no such thing as chemtrails. (ep_jhu/Flickr)

Can someone put this in the “hilarious science” hall of fame? A group of researchers has published a study to tell the world what we assumed everyone knew was true: “Chemtrails” are not real.

All joking aside, “chemtrailers” (did I just coin that?) are out there, and they are kind of a nuisance. This is particularly true when they confuse and frighten other people about the source of those puffy white streaks that so often crisscross our sky. These researchers actually just did us a huge favor by publishing common sense — you didn’t think it was necessary, but alas, this is the world we live in.

Those clouds that form behind high-flying jets are condensation trails — or “contrails.” As a plane with very hot exhaust flies through the very cold upper-atmosphere, water vapor in the air condenses into water droplets. In other words, they are clouds made by planes.

You can test this science by going outside on a cold winter day and exhaling. See that cloud of breath? You just created your very own contrail.

However, there is a small but vocal population out there that believe these are not clouds. Instead, they believe the government, or the National Weather Service, or private companies — whoever — are involved in a mass conspiracy to inject chemicals into the air. Maybe it’s to brainwash us, or perhaps they want to control the weather. Who knows.

If you don’t believe these people exist, check this out:

The research team undertook their study in response to the large number of people who claim to believe in a secret spraying program. In a 2011 international survey, nearly 17 percent of respondents said they believed the existence of a secret large-scale atmospheric spraying program to be true or partly true. And in recent years a number of websites have arisen claiming to show evidence of widespread secret chemical spraying, which they say is linked to negative impacts on human health and the environment.

(Emphasis mine.)

So how do you convince conspiracy theorists that their theories are bunk? Well … you don’t. The research team members said that they didn’t set out to change the minds of the chemtrail masses. Instead, they wanted to reach people who may be confused about the information they’ve seen on the Internet, and let them know that real scientists think it’s ridiculous.

They polled 361 atmospheric scientists who specialize in condensation trails and atmospheric deposition. Of those, 77 scientists responded, and 76 said they “had not encountered evidence of a secret spraying program, and agree that the alleged evidence cited by the individuals who believe that atmospheric spraying is occurring could be explained through other factors, such as typical airplane contrail formation and poor data sampling.”

Researchers even presented the scientists with photos of all different kinds of contrails — long ones, skinny ones, broken ones and swirly ones. Over and over, the scientists reference peer-reviewed research that prove these trails are the result of simple atmospheric interactions between air and water.

“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, and Earth system scientist at the University of California at Irvine. “The experts we surveyed resoundingly rejected contrail photographs and test results as evidence of a large-scale atmospheric conspiracy.”

So there you have it: Chemtrail crisis averted.