If you do an internet search for "chemtrails," your search results are going to be inundated with talks of conspiracy theories--I guarantee it. When I did a search of the term in google, for instance, the very first hit was the Wikipedia page for "
Chemtrail conspiracy theory."
The general theory (which you can read on the Wikipedia page) is that long-lasting "chemtrails" left in the sky by high-flying aircraft consist of chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed for sinister purposes undisclosed to the general public. The argument in favor of this theory is that "normal" contrails (the line-shaped clouds that can be the product of aircraft engine exhaust) dissipate pretty quickly' therefore, the contrails that don't dissipate quickly must contain other substances. Toxic substances.
The scientific community at large has dismissed these theories, which began to circulate in the late 1990s in the wake of a 1996 U.S. Air Force report about weather modification. Still, these theories continue to permeate the 21sty century with the help of internet propaganda. In 2011, a study including people from the US, Canada, and the UK found that 2.6% of the sample believed in the conspiracy theory wholeheartedly, and 14% believed it partially. And even for people who don't believe in the actual existence of "chemical" trails, or those relatively unfamiliar with the theory to begin with, the term "chemtrail" itself can seem to be used interchangeably with "contrail."
But if there's one person who could make or break this theory, surely it could be SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk, right?
Chemtrails...the skywriting of alien civilizations?
On Saturday afternoon, Musk tweeted out his take on the chemtrail conspiracy theory...or so it would seem:
Technology breakthrough: turns out chemtrails are actually a message from time-traveling aliens describing the secret of teleportation
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 1, 2017
I mean, it wouldn't be his most out there belief, would it? From the very man who told the world that he believed in the possibility that we're living in a simulation at the 2016 Code Conference: "The odds that we're in base reality is one in billions," he told the audience.
But don't invest in stocks of tin foil yet--there's a really good chance Musk doesn't actually believe in the chemtrail conspiracies, not in this simulation or the next, as evidenced in his next tweet:
Why did we waste so much time developing silly rockets? Damn you, aliens! So obtuse! You have all this crazy tech, but can't speak English!?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 1, 2017
Happy April Fools, World!
At least that's what approximately 86-97.4% of us probably believe. But given that it's Elon Musk, I think the dead giveaway is the "silly rockets" comment. Does anyone love rockets and the prospect of going to Mars more than Elon Musk? I really don't think so.
Musk's tweets give us more than just one more chuckle amid a cacophony of April Fool's day tomfoolery and shenanigans. It makes us ask questions: do we really know what's in our skies? And how can we be more informed about what we're seeing?
What are contrails?
Earlier I said that conspiracy theorists believe that chemtrails are essentially toxic contrails--but what exactly
are contrails? And how do they form (if they're not full of toxic substances or a means of alien telecommunications)?
Contrails are condensation trails. According to the USAF, "The combination of high humidity and low temperatures that often exists at aircraft cruise altitudes allows the formation of contrails." They are mostly water--ice crystals, actually--and therefore "do not post health risks to humans." NASA describes them as "clouds formed when water vapor condenses and freezes around small particles (aerosols) that exist in aircraft exhaust." So while water is the leading contributor to contrail formation, gas vapor and solid particles within the aircraft exhaust are also important in their creation.
Fun fact: contrails are actually considered a type of cirrus cloud.
A few different factors determine whether contrails appear and how they appear, including temperature and the amount of moisture in the air (at aircraft altitude). This, the Air Force states, is why some evaporate quickly while others linger (and grow). Engine exhaust produces a small amount of water, while the more persistent, in-your-face contrails are predominantly composed of water vapor that was already present in the air along the aircraft's flight path.
Though these condensation trails might seem like billowy white clouds of smoke, much like Skywriting, they're not. And they are not the same thing.
Skywriting, though it can look like contrails (especially when the letters begin to spread out into illegible trails), is very, very different. Skywriting is the intentional formation of patterns or messages in the sky using smoke trails. Small planes fly at low altitudes (between 10,000-15,000 feet) and use a special low viscosity smoke oil to make this art. Condensation trails, on the other hand, occur when large aircraft (passenger jets, for example) travel at very high altitudes (usually above 5 miles).
Can you picture a Boeing 747 writing "I love u" almost 30,000 ft. up in the sky? I don't think even the most talented pilot could maneuver that wide body to spell out those curves.
In short: Outside of Elon Musks' imagination, no one is using chemtrails to communicate messages--not even aliens (at least as far as we know--and at least not on this planet).
If you want to make your own temporary (or lasting) mark in the sky, grab yourself some Aerobatic Smoke Oil from Aviation Oil Outlet and start communicating with aliens (and Elon Musk) today.