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[kon-treyl] /ˈkɒn treɪl/
a visible condensation of water droplets or ice crystals from the atmosphere, occurring in the wake of an aircraft, rocket, or missile under certain conditions.
1940-45; con(densation) trail Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for contrail
  • It had a short contrail and may have had four engines.
  • If the dolphin is swimming, the action of the flukes beats the contrail into a wavy line.
  • contrail requires users to opt-in if they want to receive information from friends.
  • Watch the reflection of the sun on the contrail and notice the angle.
  • The later visualized contrail completes the picture.
  • Several scientific studies are being conducted with respect to contrail formation and their impact on climates.
British Dictionary definitions for contrail


another name for vapour trail
Word Origin
C20: from con(densation) + trail
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for contrail

1945, from condensation trail.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Related Abbreviations for contrail


condensation trail
The American Heritage® Abbreviations Dictionary, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Encyclopedia Article for contrail

condensation trail

streamer of cloud sometimes observed behind an airplane flying in clear, cold, humid air. It forms upon condensation of the water vapour produced by the combustion of fuel in the airplane engines. When the ambient relative humidity is high, the resulting ice-crystal plume may last for several hours. The trail may be distorted by the winds, and sometimes it spreads outwards to form a layer of cirrus cloud. On rare occasions, when the air is nearly saturated with water vapour, air circulation at the wing tips of an airplane may cause sufficient pressure and temperature reductions to cause cloud streamers to form

Learn more about condensation trail with a free trial on
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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