Science Project: Contrail Watching for Kids
1. Contrails are long clouds of ice crystals caused by the exhaust from the engines of high-flying aircraft.
2. Contrails can spread into cirrus clouds that reduce sunlight during the day and warm the Earth at night.
3. Contrails are formed when the temperature of the air is around -40 degrees Celsius (which equals -40 degrees Fahrenheit).
4. Contrails do not form when the air is too dry. The length of contrails provides a clue about how dry the sky is where the plane that caused the contrail is flying.
5. Clouds that shade the sun during the day can cause cool weather.
MODIS Rapid Response System. Use the highest resolution images to look for contrails.
A related parameter of interest in the LAS is Atmosphere, Clouds, Cloud Coverage, Monthly Cloud Coverage for Cirrus (ISCCP).
1. Contrail Identification. Young students should learn the differences between natural clouds and contrails. They should learn the three most basic kinds of contrails: (1) short and transient, (2) long and persistent or (3) spreading. They can find out more about contrail identification by visiting the S’COOL Cloud Chart: Contrails and GLOBE Contrail Resources.
2. Contrail Calendar. Young students can easily add contrail observations to a daily cloud calendar. They might even consider a separate Contrail Calendar. The calendar can be a pocket notebook or a calendar with plenty of white space for each day. If a notebook is used, the student should print the day, month and year at the top of each page. For more ideas, see Science Project 1: Clouds for Kids.
3. Contests. Kids love contests. You can motivate young students to observe contrails by organizing a contest for the highest number of contrails that are observed in a given week or month.
4. Science Fairs. Young students who make a detailed Contrail Calendar for a month or more have the ingredients for a good science fair project.
Observe the temperature cooling that occurs when a contrail passes in front of the sun and shades the ground.
1. What makes contrails?
2. Are contrails formed of water droplets or ice crystals?
3. Why are some contrails very short?
4. Why do you think some contrails spread across the sky?
For more information about contrail watching, see Science Project 4. Contrail Studies. Advanced younger students may be able to advance to that project.
Students who have a digital camera can be encouraged to make photographs of contrails and to even make a digital scrapbook of contrail photos. Such photos are ideal for science fair projects.