Contrails are generally classified into two types. Exhaust contrails and aerodynamic contrails.
Exhaust contrails are formed by the mixing of the hot humid exhaust of the engines with cold humid surrounding air, creating long streamers of clouds. If the conditions are right then these can persist and spread. These are the most common type of contrail observed.
Aerodynamic contrails are formed by the temporary reduction in pressure of the air moving over the surface of the plane, or in the center of a wake vortex. Reducing the pressure of the air means it can hold less water, so condensation occurs.
I propose a useful new classification for a type of contrail, the Hybrid Contrail, defined as two distinct thin cylindrical portions of an exhaust contrail that have larger ice crystals due to wake vortices. A hybrid contrail is formed in a narrow range of atmospheric conditions, specifically with temperature below -40F, and a relative humidity with respect to ice slightly below 100%. When RHI is below 100% then a contrail that forms will not be persistent, and will eventually sublime away. The low pressure in the wake vortex core allows for a longer period of time in which the mixing air is above 100%, and hence the ice crystals in that portion of the contrail will grow larger and/or more numerous.
The entire evolution of a hybrid contrail can be see in this video. Notice the trail starts out as a large dense regular exhaust contrail, then this fades away leaving the hybrid contrail which separates away from dissipating exhaust contrail, breaking up into loops and segments.
Hybrid contrails will not form when RHI > 100%, as the entire contrail, including the vortex cores, is above the threshold for ice accretion, and so will accrete (gain ice) at the same rate. Hybrid contrails will not form at values significantly below RHI of 100%, as the relative increase from the vortex core is small, and cannot push the ambient RHI over 100% after initial mixing. Hence hybrid contrails will only form in marginal conditions with RHI only slightly below 100%. A similar narrow range may also apply to temperature.
The resultant region of greater contrail densities will initially be indistinguishable from the exhaust contrail. However as the exhaust contrail sublimates (turns from ice back to water vapor) then the hybrid contrail will be revealed as two thin rope-like regions running along the contrail. The hybrid contrail will sometimes sink away from the exhaust contrail, due to the large size of the ice crystals. Usually the hybrid contrail will persist for a few minutes longer than the exhaust contrail. Since the hybrid contrail is much smaller in cross-section than the exhaust contrail, then the effects of turbulence and crow instability cause the hybrid contrail to twist into loops and curls that often resemble chromosomes.
The reason this new classification is needed is that people frequently mistake these hybrid contrails as being regular exhaust contrail, and they cannot understand why these particular contrails loop and twist in such a dramatic and asymmetric manner. In addition hybrid contrails are often spotted within regular exhaust contrails, and this is presented as evidence of something being sprayed within the cover of the contrail. Hybrid contrails also often look very unusual, and this is taken as evidence of some novel propulsion mechanism.
While I’m suggesting a new classification, this is not in any way a new type of contrail. In fact it has been observed for many decades, such as in the 1972 book: Clouds of the World:
The full development can be seen here:
In a four engined jet the contribution to the hybrid contrails comes mostly from the outside engines. This is because they are much closer to the ends of the the wings, and so feed almost directly into the vortices. The inner engines contrails are pushed down by the vortex sheet, and are greatly spread out before they might contribute. The following animation shows this initial separation: