There’s often a scientific explanation behind a UFO sighting
Back in the 1990s, James Oberg was a staffer at Mission Control but now spends his time combing through YouTube videos and internet message boards. A former NASA employee has met the internet’s conspiracy theorists head-on and debunked several popular UFO myths .
He says he’s interested in why people react strongly to footage of UFOs and aliens and will gently explain the actual science behind what people are watching.
For example, the bright lights that appear next to a space shuttle on the grainy NASA feed are usually just tiny bits of rubbish that have come from the shuttle itself.
Oberg calls it “space dandruff”.
He explains that, since a shuttle is travelling roughly 17,500 miles per hour anything that hangs around long enough to be visible on the camera’s field came from the shuttle itself.
“Our sensory system is functioning absolutely perfectly for Earth conditions,” he explains in an excellent piece on Atlas Obscura .
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“But we’re still a local civilization. Moving beyond our neighborhood has been visually confusing.
“I’ve had enough experience with real spaceflight to realise that what’s being seen in many videos is nothing beyond the ‘norm’ from fully mundane phenomena occurring in unearthly settings.”
In the article, Oberg calls out two specific examples.
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Firstly, there was the giant plume of light that appeared over California last year. According to Oberg, this was a plume – a load of particles fired out by a rocket as it streaked upwards through the sky.
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In this specific case, it was caused by a Navy test missile.
The other phenomena he describes is called “twilight shadowing”. It occurs when objects in space (ice particles, dust or small bits of space trash) move in and out of the shadow cast by the spacecraft.
This results in what looks like flashing lights in space that are picked up on the craft’s on-board camera.
Oberg says he finds the space discussion endlessly fascinating – but that conspiracy theorists aren’t always the most rational types.
“Everyone on YouTube just calls each other morons or sheeple,” he said.
“But really it’s just that out there, your visual assumptions are no longer valid.”
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