I was clearing out a bunch of pictures I took on my old cell phone, and I had forgotten that I snapped these photos last winter …
Now there are some people who believe that things such as crop-circles are the handy work of extra-terrestrials. They are likely to say: “Who or what else could create such perfect patterns?” Some of those severely confused people might look at these pictures and draw similar conclusions. But unless someone can offer up a better explanation, they appear to me to be four separate vapor trails (a.k.a. contrails) that have formed a close-to-geometrically-perfect double cross. Having never seen a convergence of vapor trails like this before, I started wondering what the odds might be of me witnessing such an occurrence. There are several factors to consider, and probably some factors that I’m not even aware of, but I’ll give it my best shot.
First, I have concluded that these are four distinct trails caused by four different airplanes. The space between each set of parallel trails is very wide, so that would rule out that a single craft caused either pair of trails. Were each set of parallel trails much closer to each other, we might be talking about as few as two planes, but this is definitely four separate aircraft at work.
Second, these four planes must have traveled close to the epicenter within a few hours of each other, for that is how long vapor trails can last according to the folks at contrailscience.com (your one-stop shop for all things contrail related). Yet they also say that some contrails can last just a few seconds, based on a variety of environmental factors. A few seconds to several hours is a pretty big range to time. The apparent “thickness” of each vapor trail is a fairly good indication of the order in which the planes left their marks. The oldest trail looks like it is about 33% as thick as the most recent trail. If I assume that each vapor trail lasted for a total of 120 minutes (and that’s probably being generous) from my vantage point, then the oldest trail should be no older that 80 minutes. Jumping ahead to the thickest contrail, that one appears to me as if it passed 20 minutes prior to my taking the photos. So that means that the four planes converged on the epicenter within 60 minutes of each other. Each of the four trails show various degrees of decay, so that means I snapped the photos somewhere in the near middle of those 60 minutes, so lets call it the 30 minute mark. To summarize, my best guess is that I caught this 60-minute long event within 30 minutes of the last plane leaving its trail.
Third, I’d like to try and determine the relative altitude of each trail to one another. These pictures make is appear as if these trails actually make contact at the crossings. That would be about as rare an occurrence as you could possibly get for four separate planes. So chances are much more likely that these contrails are occurring at different altitudes. How can that be calculated? Unfortunately, not very accurately with just one set of photos. The vapor trails in relation to my position on the ground are about a 30 degree angle above the horizon. But what if the relative position were 45 degrees? Or directly overhead at 90 degrees? Would they still appear to be crossed lines? I think it is impossible to say without any other photos taken from other vantage points.
Fourth, I need to try to determine just how close to “parallel” these pairs of vapor trails actually are. Most likely, these are only “apparently parallel” trails. If you look at the right side lower pair of trails, as they fade out of sight they appear to be closer to each other than at the epicenter of the rendezvous with the other pair of trails. Following the same trails beyond the point of exchanges, the pair continue to the upper left side of the photo and appear to be slightly wider still. However, this is what I would expect to occur if I were looking at a highway in the desert heading off to the horizon, and these lines do fall into that kind of pattern. Another point that argues in favor of parallel lines (and any pilots or air traffic controllers can correct me if I’m mistaken) is that that planes are likely to be instructed to fly on similar headings over any given part of the sky, kind of like traffic lanes for airplanes. Taking all this into consideration, I think the photos reveal actual near-parallel vapor trails.
And finally, a question: where are the most likely places to see uncommon patterns of vapor trails? The answer is wherever there are military activities occurring. Check out these photos. The photos I snapped were taken in North Haven, CT, and the closest military aircraft to there is stationed at Bradley Airport in Windsor, CT, about 45 miles to the north. So it is unlikely, though not impossible, that this was some sort of formation being flown by four military aircraft. It is much more plausible that these were commercial jetliners cruising at 30,000 feet or higher. Plus, Connecticut is fly-over territory for major airports in Boston, New York, and New Jersey, so Connecticut regularly has multiple vapor trails in the sky at any given moment.
(As a side note, one of the eeriest things for me about 9/11 was going outside that morning, looking at that perfect cloudless blue sky and seeing no vapor trails at all, anywhere. All flights in the country were grounded. It was so unusual for me to see a Connecticut sky without contrails that I was taken aback at the sight of that pure blue sky.)
Anyway, back to the calculations. At 39, this is the first time in my life I have ever seen this kind of vapor trail pattern. While my eyes are not glued to the sky at all times, I do look up at the daytime sky probably more often than the average person (hence my observation about 9/11). So I’ll say that on average, I’ve looked at a clear Connecticut sky for half of my days since I was 8 years old. 39 years, minus 8 years equals 31 years, divided by 2, equals 15.5 years, which equals about 5,660 days (counting for leap days and such.) On any given day of those 5,660 fair weather days, I would say that I’ve personally witnessed 4 vapor trails per day (which is probably a very modest estimate, I’ve spent time in the back yard with my daughter and we’ve counted a dozen trails over the course of 30 minutes). But sticking with 4 trails per day, that turns out to be no fewer than 22,640 contrails I have seen in my life over the Connecticut skies. Going back to my earlier calculations that this occurrence lasted for 60 minutes, that means that I only had one hour on any given clear day to have witnessed it. I’ll call that a 1-in-24 chance that I was at the right place at the right time. If I multiply 22,640 times 24, that equals 543,360. Factoring in the relative altitudes of the four trails, I have to assume that these are four different altitudes and not actual convergences of any of the lines, only apparent convergences, so there should be no need to invoke a “rarity” multiplier based on relative altitudes. However, to the best of my estimates, we are talking about 2 sets of near parallel trails, and the rarity of that occurring should be factored. But by how much? If we were talking about just one set of parallel lines, I don’t think we’d come up with a multiplier much more than 1, but since it is a pair of parallel lines that forming a double cross at my vantage point, I think I would need to, at a minimum, apply a multiplier of 3 (again, probably a low estimate). So 543,360 times 3 equals 1,630,080. And finally, the fact that rare vapor trail patterns are more likely to occur in the vicinity of military actions (such as a war or at least an armed forces base) probably account for a small multiplier to be figured in here, and I’ll call that 1.25.
So to the best of my calculations, the odds that I would witness a double crossing of parallel vapor trails once in my life (to date) are 2,037,600-to-1. I could have applied more data to the calculation (such as, what were the chances that I had a cell phone with a camera handy in time to take the shots?) and I am sure that my rough calculations are less-than-ideal in the world of statistics, but it’s about as good a guess as I can muster. This is not to say that there is a millions-to-one chance that this could have occurred. Quite the contrary, given the amount of planes in the skies at any moment, these kinds of patters must occur more frequently than can ever be witnessed. I am only trying to figure out the odds in relation to one specific person, namely me.
Any way you look at it, you have to admit, these are some pretty cool and rare photos, unless I’ve somehow been double-crossed, and alien spaceships are actually responsible.