Are you feeling a little under the weather? Does your mind feel like someone else is in control? Do white lines in the sky make you nervous? If so—boy, have I got a theory for you. You're slowly being clouds!

Yes: Chemtrails. Science claims that the white trails left in the sky by airplanes are really condensed water, but what if they're really toxic chemicals? The chemtrail theory, which revolves around the long, white trails of vapor that are left behind by high-flying aircraft, is slowly metastasizing among hip, middle-aged internet users who want to appear smart but also failed third grade science.

How "Chemtrails" (Contrails) Actually Work

In reality, these white trails in the sky are called condensation trails, or contrails, and they form when the hot, moist exhaust from airplane engines condenses when it comes in contact with the extremely cold, moist air in the upper atmosphere. The trails consist of water vapor and pollutants from the burning of jet fuel. They're man-made cirrus clouds, and aside from that whole " pollution" thing, they're harmless.

Contrails only form when temperatures and humidity levels in the upper atmosphere are just right—if the atmosphere is too dry, contrails won't form at all; if the humidity is near 100%, the contrails can last for many hours and spread out into a thin veil of cirrus clouds. These trails can start and stop abruptly as the aircraft passes through regions of differing moisture and winds. Contrails can even form at ground level in the Arctic and Antarctic, where surface temperatures are cold enough to support their formation.

How Conspiracy Theorists Think They Work

In imagination land, conspiracy theorists assert that these trails are really tons and tons of chemicals being sprayed into the atmosphere by government (or government-contracted) aircraft that are packed from floor to ceiling with tanks that hold these toxic compounds. The self-described activists call these theoretical chemical trails "chemtrails," and the purpose of these purported spraying campaigns is to control the weather, make us sick, or control our minds. Sometimes it's all three.

Where the Chemtrail Theory Comes From

It's hard to pinpoint who was mental patient zero with most of these tin foil hat theories—sometimes conspiracies originate from the mind of one person, but even then they only really gain life as a collaborative work.

But it's pretty easy to trace the origin of the chemtrail theory.

It began in the 1990s and came to nationwide attention when it gained traction on radio talk shows and budding internet forums. The theory is based on an Air University research paper written in August 1996 that details the ways in which the United States military would need to control the weather in order to maintain militaristic dominance over the world in the year 2025—at that point, 30 years in the future.

The paper is titled Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025, and it opens with a bold declaration:

In 2025, US aerospace forces can "own the weather" by capitalizing on emerging technologies and focusing development of those technologies to war-fighting applications. Such a capability offers the war fighter tools to shape the battlespace in ways never before possible. It provides opportunities to impact operations across the full spectrum of conflict and is pertinent to all possible futures. The purpose of this paper is to outline a strategy for the use of a future weather-modification system to achieve military objectives rather than to provide a detailed technical road map.

The research goes on to describe the theoretical ways in which future technologies could be used in order to modify the weather, such as enhancing precipitation, dissipating fog, and even developing thunderstorms (though they admit the latter would require "pre-existing atmospheric conditions locally and regionally."

The paper was military science fiction in the same vein as all those writers and academics in the 1950s who predicted we'd live on Mars and drive hovercars by 2000. Every joke, lie, and conspiracy theory contains a kernel of truth, of course. There has been some mild success in ventures like cloud seeding, which introduces small particles into clouds in order to induce precipitation. Water vapor needs a nucleus around which to condense and form a raindrop (or snowflake), and introducing large amounts of these small particles into clouds can indeed trigger this process. However, the success is limited to very small areas, and it's nowhere near enough to induce a rainfall that lasts for any length of time.

The people who believe in chemtrails cannot be swayed with science or logic. Most of them truly believe that every white line appearing in the sky is The Man spraying the atmosphere full of toxic chemicals in order to kill us. The conspiracy theorists truly believe that hundreds of thousands of people are being paid enough money to keep quiet while they load up and fly tens of thousands of planes full of chemicals every day so they can spray every corner of the globe with toxic goop. Somehow, that theory is more plausible to them than the idea that water vapor from jet exhaust condenses when it comes in contact with moist, -65°F air. Many of them claim that people (like myself) who argue the science are paid government shills. All you have to do, they argue, is look up and wake up and you'll see the evidence before your eyes.

Even worse, many of them believe that if you spray vinegar at the sky, it will magically ascend tens of thousands of feet to defeat these horrible government spraying campaigns. Hell, once you've thrown out the science of meteorology, ignoring physics isn't all that hard.

While the chemtrail activism seems to be spreading on the internet, it's still a relatively rare phenomenon. Most people accept the science behind condensation in the atmosphere. The folks who believe in chemtrails are very loud and they're great at creating the illusion of numbers; they flood newspapers and local government emails in order to sway editorial or political winds in their favor. When push comes to shove, though, only tens of them turn out in person. Sometimes it works, and other times they're rightfully brushed off. It's largely a nuisance (and even entertaining) until some people take it too seriously and their paranoia becomes dangerous.

It's fun to imagine that the government is more powerful than it really is, and that hundreds of thousands of people can keep mum on a global conspiracy to commit mass genocide. Those white lines in the sky are exactly as they appear, and no amount of sci-fi fan fiction can change the laws of physics.

[Images: author, MGM's The Wizard of Oz]

This is Illuminati Month on Black Bag, in which Gawker locks itself in the woodshed and breaks out the red yarn to explore its favorite conspiracy theories. You can follow the paid government shill who wrote this article on Twitter or send him an email. Photo illustration by Sovereign Prince Rose-Croix, and Knight of the Pelican & Eagle Jim Cooke.