James Oberg, a former NASA employee, claims to offer explanations that debunk popular UFO sighting claims and conspiracy theories. Oberg hopes that his explanations, based on his experience spanning several decades, would help to shed light on the cause of the proliferation of UFO claims, including videos being uploaded daily to YouTube.
Oberg, who worked with NASA in the 1990s, has researched UFO phenomenon for decades. After having read hundreds of eyewitness testimonies and studied footage of alleged UFO sightings, he concluded that UFO sightings in NASA spaceflight footage result mostly from the fact that the human brain and senses are so accustomed to interpreting sensory data within the Earth’s atmosphere that they get confused easily when viewing objects and motion in outer space.
In an article published on the website Atlas Obscura, Oberg argued that humans easily misinterpret sensory data relating to objects and motion of objects in outer space where atmosphere and gravity are absent, and light conditions are different.
“Our sensory system is functioning absolutely perfectly for Earth conditions,” he wrote on Atlas Obscura. “But we’re still a local civilization. Moving beyond our neighborhood has been visually confusing.”
Our human senses, according to Oberg, are also more accustomed to interpreting phenomena linked with slow-moving objects.
To illustrate his argument, he cited the confusion often caused by “space dandruff” in spaceflight footage, such as in footage showing the controversial “tether incident” that happened during the STS-75 mission of NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia.
The objective of the STS-75 mission was to place in orbit the Tethered Satellite System needed to study the Earth’s atmosphere from space. But as the astronauts deployed the tether, it broke, causing the satellite to drift off into space.
High definition footage of the moment (see YouTube above) the tether broke appeared to show UFOs floating around the tether. But Oberg claims the objects were most likely ice crystals floating in space around the tether.
“The first principle of space travel is that objects coming off a vehicle tend to fly along with it,” Oberg said. “They appear to move in straight lines unless they encounter some force, such as the atmosphere or an exhaust plume from a rocket thruster.”
He also explains the strange appearance of rockets seen from Earth flying in the upper atmosphere or in space.
A recent case occurred in November 2015, when thousands sighted a mysterious object (see YouTube below) streaking over southern California at about 6 p.m. local time. The strange object changed shape suddenly as it streaked across the sky with the hind section exploding into a cone-shaped tail of blue and white light.
The strange appearance of the object baffled witnesses and sparked UFO speculation on social media, including a bizarre rumor that the corpse of an alien dropped from the “crashing UFO.”
UFO and alien rumors persisted long after the military authorities had explained that the strange object was an unarmed Trident missile fired by the Navy.
Oberg explains that the public’s frenzied reaction to the missile was due to the unusual shape of its contrail in space. People are familiar only with airplane contrails that appear within the atmosphere as straight cloudy lines behind the aircraft. But contrails in space are plume-shaped, Oberg explains. The plume consists of particles ejected from the thruster of the spacecraft which behave differently in the vacuum of space.
The appearance of the plume in twilight or in the dark night sky is even more striking when it is illuminated in space by sunlight, Oberg explains.
“There were thousands of people who were absolutely processing their visual stimuli correctly if [the plume] was a mile away or ten miles away,” Oberg said. “But it was 300 miles away, up in space and sunlit, which never occurred to them, because this is not something within the normal range of human experience.”
Mr. Oberg also describes another space phenomenon he terms “twilight shadowing,” which people have misinterpreted as UFO activity. Probably the best-known instance of this strange phenomenon occurred during the 1996 STS-80 mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Footage from the mission shows strange circular objects that slowly form a circle near the shuttle. Oberg believes they were sunlit debris floating close to the shuttle.
Oberg explains that the “twilight shadowing” effect was due to the fact that the flying Shuttle did not have a visible shadow in space because there was no nearby surface for it to cast a shadow on. Thus, the existence of the shadow of the Shuttle bathed in sunlight was not obvious until “space dandruff” entered the shadow and disappeared. The “space dandruff” then reappeared “mysteriously” when it moved out of the shadow again.
Consequently, the behavior of the particles appeared in the video as if UFOs were jumping in and out of a wormhole, when, in fact, they were only moving in and out of the Shuttle’s shadow.
However, some have challenged Oberg’s attempts to explain away “mysterious” UFO phenomena in space.
For instance, footage below, captured during NASA’s September 1991 STS-48 Space Shuttle Discovery orbital mission, which has been described as “the most bizarre and baffling UFO footage ever,” remains controversial, although Oberg believes he has explained it.
At about 20:30-20:45 GMT while in orbit on September 15, 1991, cameras on board the Space Shuttle Discovery captured objects that some claimed were “intelligently controlled” crafts.
One of the alleged crafts appears in the video to move towards the Earth. But it changes direction suddenly and speeds off (see the 33-second mark in the video below).
Oberg dismissed speculation that the objects were intelligently controlled alien spacecraft, saying they were actually ice particles moving as the shuttle’s thrusters fired.
But some experts, such as Jack Kasher, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Nebraska, questioned Oberg’s explanation.
Kasher wrote at the time that the objects could be intelligently controlled spacecraft, “since the main object clearly accelerated and moved above the Earth’s airglow in the videotape” (Click here for a detailed discussion of the STS-48 UFO mystery).
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