Contrails or vapour trails are artificial clouds that are the visible trails of condensed water vapour made by the exhaust of aircraft engines. As the hot exhaust gases cool in the surrounding air they may precipitate a cloud of microscopic water droplets or, if the air is cold enough, tiny ice crystals.
The wingtip vortices which trail from the wingtips and wing flaps of aircraft are sometimes partly visible due to condensation in the cores of the vortices. Each vortex is a mass of spinning air and the air pressure at the centre of the vortex is very low. These wingtip vortices are not the same as contrails.
Depending on atmospheric conditions, contrails may be visible for only a few seconds or minutes, or may persist for many hours which may affect climate.
Contrails tend to last longer if there is higher moisture in the atmosphere and associated higher level clouds such as cirrus, cirrostratus and cirrocumulus already present before the plane flies through.