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What are Chemtrails?

By Dakota Davis
Updated May 21, 2024
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Chemtrails are the basis of a theory that states some contrails left behind jets are not merely condensation, but include chemicals or biological agents deliberately sprayed on the unknowing public for an unidentified purpose. The term chemtrail comes from the phrase "chemical trail," much like contrail is derived from "condensation trail." Chemtrails do not include crop-dusting or chemicals released during aerial attempts to fight fires. The word refers only to aerial trails that are said to be created by the high-altitude release of substances not found in ordinary contrails, resulting in the appearance what proponents consider to be uncharacteristic sky tracks.

The chemtrail conspiracy theory, as it's known, started in 1998, after the Air Force Air University created a strategy paper filled with hypothetical scenarios for maintaining future military dominance. Conspiracy theorists accused the Air Force of using aircraft to spray unwitting Americans with unknown substances. Those aircraft created unusual contrail patterns, called "mystery contrails." Investigative journalist and author William Thomas is credited with coining the phrase "chemtrails" when his reports about the issue received national attention.

Proponents of this theory say that chemtrails can be differentiated from contrails in a variety of ways. Not only do they last longer, but they're also thicker and form patterns that resemble "X"s, grids, and cross-hatched or parallel lines. They often become wispy "clouds" that join together to form a veil. Chemtrails are also purported to have color spectra in the streams. Unmarked or military aircraft flying at unusual altitudes or excessive concentrations of sky tracks in a single area also indicate their presence.

Chemtrails are generally believed to be toxic, although supporters disagree on their purpose. Ideas vary from benign measures like trying to vaccinate citizens against disease or bioterrorism and global warming mitigation measures, to more sinister scenarios like ID tracking, military weapons testing, chemical population control, and biowarfare. Symptoms are said to range from flu-like conditions, including neck pain and stomach cramps, to severe respiratory distress similar to pneumonia.

Scientists, universities, publications, and governments around the world have all denied the existence of chemtrails. The United States received so many complaints that NASA, the EPA, the FAA, and NOAA issued a jointly published fact sheet in 2000 that explains how contrails are formed and outlines their known and potential impacts on temperature and climate. Other countries — including Britain and Canada, where chemtrails are purported to be prevalent — have also vehemently refuted the chemtrail conspiracy theory.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon45083 — On Sep 13, 2009

Global dimming; Gespenster; All you have to do is look up into the skies and see the jets that streak those skies with "X" and parallel line patterns of long-lasting, dispersing clouds that transform the skies into a hazy, yellowish gray by late afternoon, often most concentrated in the horizon of the setting sun. It is already taking place in *addition* to man-made pollution and much of it seems to be deliberate. This is accomplished by lacing the contrails of jets with barium and aluminum salts, polymer fibers, thorium, or silicon carbide, this is documented. The addition of these compounds to the water-vapor/jet exhaust discourages water droplet aggregation, leaving smaller water droplet nuclei that are lighter and able to persist longer, allowing a prolonged dissipation and dispersion, effectively forming a "filter" between the sun and the earth. This has the effect of decreasing the amount of UV radiation reaching the earth's surface, hence a cooling phenomenon occurs near the surface and results in lower surface temperatures. There has long been speculated effects on the weather that result from this phenomena in the form of drought and decreased precipitation. It would follow that it would be possible through a concerted effort to create artificial cloud cover that could inhibit natural events like hurricanes for instance, by the manipulation of surface temperatures, where less warm surface air would be able to mix with atmospheric cooler air, discouraging storm cloud formation. This takes place all over the Northern hemisphere with the exception of China which has *not* signed on the the "Open Skies" treaty which entered into force on January 1, 2002, and currently has 34 states parties. It allows unmanned aircraft from neighboring nations to enter surrounding countries airspace with prior notification in a cooperative effort to reduce global warming amongst other controversial objectives. The natural consequence and perhaps the *most* compelling reason that such an effort has been undertaken by many countries of the northern hemisphere would be to counter the effects of global warming. Other reasons include experimentation by using facilities such as HAARP, The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) which is an investigation project jointly funded by the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, the University of Alaska, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Although widely argued, in essence this project is capable of "ionizing" portions of the atmosphere (e.g. Ionosphere) for military applications.

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