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NASA is expected to play a “leading role” in the federal government’s ongoing study of unidentified flying objects, also known as UFOs.
That’s the view of a group of outside advisers who have urged NASA to use its scientific expertise, as well as its existing and planned instruments for observing space and Earth, to better collect data related to what is now often called “unidentified anomalous phenomena”, or UAP.
“We want to move the debate about UAPs from sensationalism to science,” says NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, a former Florida senator who once flew on the space shuttle. Colombia.
While emphasizing that “NASA’s independent study team found no evidence that UAPs have an extraterrestrial origin,” Nelson noted that “we don’t know what these UAPs are. NASA’s mission is to discover the unknown.
NASA has actively searched for potential signs of life on other planets and moons in the solar system and beyond, but it hasn’t traditionally spent much time thinking about the “little green men” closer to home.
The new report offers a road map for how NASA could contribute to this area of research, and officials embraced the idea by announcing that the agency had created a new position, director of UAP research, to help guide and coordinate NASA’s efforts.
However, they refused to name the person appointed to this position. Dan Evans, deputy assistant administrator for research at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said their refusal to reveal the name was in part to protect this person from being harassed by people with strong feelings about UFOs. .
“Some of the threats and harassment have been unconscionable, frankly, against some of our panelists,” Evans says. “This is part of why we are not publishing the name of our new director.”
Although supernatural-looking sightings in the sky are not uncommon, the report says the “vast majority” can be attributed to mundane aerial objects like planes, drones and weather balloons.
Still, not everything can be easily explained, and NASA advisers say that any observation that appears to deviate from known technological constraints on speeds and accelerations “is scientifically interesting.”
The Department of Defense now has a special office tasked with investigating mysterious sightings, and UFOs have recently received attention from Congress. Earlier this year, for example, a former government employee made headlines when he told lawmakers that authorities had recovered extraterrestrial “biologicals” from crash sites, but a spokesperson for the Pentagon said such claims could not be substantiated.
In the past, NASA has emphasized that the space agency “has found no credible evidence of extraterrestrial life,” and that it has no evidence that UFO sightings are extraterrestrial.
The 16 researchers and other advisors who wrote recommendations to NASA were not asked to comment on the nature of the unidentifiable past observations, but rather to tell the agency what type of data was currently available or could be collected for objective study.
For example, the new report notes that while NASA’s Earth observation satellites can’t detect small objects, they could help determine whether certain environmental conditions tend to coincide with strange sightings.
Large-scale sky surveys already planned by telescopes such as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory could search for unusual objects beyond Earth’s atmosphere, the report says. And programs searching for near-Earth objects, such as potentially dangerous asteroids, collect a lot of information about phenomena close to Earth’s atmosphere.
The report identified some gaps in the data, such as the lack of a standardized system that would allow civilian pilots to report unusual sightings. Currently, civilians are advised to contact local law enforcement or other organizations. “As a result, data collection is rare, unsystematic, and lacking any curation or verification protocols,” the report notes, adding that NASA could offer advice to other government agencies on the best ways to collect data. such data.
Additionally, smartphone-based applications could offer a way to collect observations from the public, the panel noted, saying NASA should explore the viability of this type of public engagement and data collection.
“The language of scientists is data,” notes Nicola Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, who called the UAP “one of the greatest mysteries on our planet.”
Finally, advisers say NASA has an established history of openness and public trust that could benefit the study of UFOs, and that the agency could help destigmatize reports of these sightings so they can be studied in more depth.
“We are going to be open about this,” Nelson promised, emphasizing that the agency makes its activities and data transparent.
David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation and chair of NASA’s UAP Independent Study Team, says it is important for scientists to fully understand “normal” conditions and objects in the sky, so they can determine when something is really strange, and have a solid foundation. data-driven is essential.
“Most of the events will turn out to be conventional things, balloons, planes, etc.,” says Spergel.
He compared looking for something truly unusual to looking for a needle in a haystack – not knowing what the “needle” will look like.
“If you want to find something strange in a haystack,” says Spergel, “you better know exactly what hay looks like.”