Eyewitnesses reported a strange aircraft leaving large, oval patterns over Houston on September 11th of this year. The odd contrails caused conspiracy enthusiasts to form all sorts of strange theories — none were correct. It turns out it was NASA.
Video from this weekend shows an odd-looking jet aircraft flying in circles above the Houston area. Individuals from across Southeast Texas reported seeing the patterns, which looks like a racetrack. One videographer called it a Chemtrail, which is conspiracy-speak for something that looks like a contrail but is actually the sign of the government spreading biological agents on an unknowing public. Another thought they were symbols of a secret government/extra-governmental agency.
Turns out they were half correct. The odd contrails were actually the poorly-timed work of one of NASA's high-flying jet aircraft. According to NASA, they were the product of a WB-57 used for high altitude research. The jets are actually B-57s converted to weather research planes and transferred to NASA when the Air Force was done with them. There are two of the long-range, mid-wing jet aircraft based at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Center in Houston and both are capable of flying above 60,000 feet.
In this case, the WB-57 was "sniffing" the atmosphere to see how crappy the air is above the Houston area. We'll let Dave Gorham from YourWeatherBlog explain what that means:
Turns out the source of the trails was a NASA WB-57, a high-altitude research aircraft on a "sniffing" mission - atmospheric sampling - high over Houston. The flights are regular occurrences, but mostly invisible to those on the ground. What was different this time? Contrails.
Contrail is a compound word formed by "condensation" and, drum roll! - "trail." A contrail is formed when condensation in jet engine exhaust (the main products of hydrocarbon fuel combustion are carbon dioxide and water vapor) freezes into ice crystals which then trace the aircraft's flight. Depending on atmospheric conditions, contrails may linger for hours or merely seconds. These ice crystals have similar characteristics to cirrus clouds.
The planes are currently being used as part of a the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) program. GRIP was designed to study hurricane intensification and the planes have been flying missions around the edges of tropical storms to gather data for storm modeling.
This may or may not be part of a conspiracy to drive the hurricanes towards Cuba. I WANT TO BELIEVE.
Photo Credits: NASA, AutoSpotters