I'm a few days late on this one, because I've been hard at work forecasting a much needed rain event for Friday – but I have to chime in on this one.
In case you haven't heard, earlier this week an apparent missile launch took place off the coast of California; except experts at the U.S. Defense Department have now concluded that the mysterious vapor trail of the alleged missile rising from the sea on Monday was most likely left by a passenger airline. I'm not a rocket scientist, but I have some qualms with that "theory".
Most contrails that you see streaking the sky, especially during summer, are caused by passenger aircrafts. Jet fuel contains water, which is vaporized by the heat of the jet engine. This is expelled behind the plane, and mixes with relatively colder air. As the jet contrail cools to the dew point/saturation temperature, the water vapor condenses into water droplets. These water droplets then freeze into tiny ice crystals, much like a cirrus cloud, forming the visible jet contrail.
That missile (it had to be a missile) contrail was huge! Far larger than any jet contrail I have ever seen. Yes, jet contrails can be dispersed by the winds in the upper-level of the atmosphere to appear larger, but even when that happens I still haven't seen any jet contrail as large, thick and dense as the mystery missile's contrail.
Something else of interest, the trajectory of the contrail – nearly 90 degrees straight up into the atmosphere, at least from the prospective of whoever recorded the popular video of the event. Again, I've never seen a 90 degree, straight up jet contrail, that was much thicker near the ground than at the source of the contrail.
Finally, if it was an airplane…I want to see the flight logs.