Thursday, January 12, 2012

Contrails over Monterey

On Tuesday afternoon I was listening to former KGO talk show host Bill Wattenburg, who has found a new home on KSCO in Santa Cruz. For those who don't know, Dr. Bill often talks about science stuff, because he's a famous scientist and engineer. He had a couple of kooky callers who insisted that jet contrails are a government conspiracy to destroy our lives. They called them "chemtrails" and these people claim that these normal vapor trails that form in the heat of jet exhaust are actually loaded with chemicals designed to make us sick.

The Monterey Peninsula is actually a fertile breeding ground for these theories. In fact, every day large numbers of jet contrails can be seen over Monterey, coming from over the ocean from the Northwest, and headed towards the Southeast. Evidently, some folks can't understand why so many planes would be flying from what appears to be nowhere into California. It must be a sinister government plot!

Long before
I ever heard of these conspiracy theories, I noticed the same thing. Binoculars revealed that almost all of the planes were Boeing 747s. And when the light is hitting them just right, I can sometimes make out the airline markings. But where were they coming from? There's nothing out there in the ocean Northwest of here.

Or is there?

It so happened that the front of our then-apartment faced almost perfectly towards the North. This made it really easy to look up and estimate the approximate angle the planes were coming in. I then immediately consulted my trusty globe, which I acquired when I was 19 by cashing in my S&H Green Stamps. I put my finger over Monterey, and traced my finger Northwest at roughly the same angle as the planes flying in over our heads. My finger arched up and over the Pacific Ocean, following a Great Circle, and I found my finger arriving squarely on Japan.

I then returned to Monterey
and traced a line in the opposite direction and landed less than half an inch later upon Los Angeles. How interesting! It turns out that Monterey is almost in a direct line between Japan and Los Angeles! What we're almost certainly seeing are flights between Tokyo and LA. That would explain why the planes are almost always 747s, which are best suited to such long overseas flights.

You can do this yourself,
but you need a globe. The rules of geometry are different on a spherical surface than a flat surface. If you try it on a flat map you'll end up somewhere in Western Canada or even Nowhere Alaska, where government conspiracies are hatched. I suspect the conspiracy theorists started with a flat map, if they looked at one at all, and jumped to conclusions.

More recently,
I noticed a contrail coming over Monterey from the Southwest, more West than South actually. The plane passed over our house and headed slightly Northeast. OK, I asked, what's out that way? Hawaii, which surprised me, because I figured the angle would be farther south. And in the other direction? Denver and Chicago, take your pick.

So, we're in line
between Honolulu and Denver and Chicago as well as a line between Tokyo and Los Angeles. That's why we see lots of contrails over Monterey. We're really at the crossroads of the world. Who knew?

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