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NASA officials discussed the results of an independent team’s findings released Thursday after delving into how to unlock the secrets of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena, more commonly known as UFOs.
The 36-page report was published on NASA’s website, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson led a panel from Washington to discuss its findings, which call on the space agency to use existing resources but also seek out help from companies and the public in tracking UAP sightings.
“The top takeaway from the study is that there is a lot more to learn,” Nelson said. “The NASA independent study team did not find any evidence that UAPs have an extraterrestrial origin, but we don’t know what these UAP are.”
The study team commissioned by NASA in 2022 consisted of 16 experts, including former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, as well as university physics professors and officials with the Federal Aviation Administration among others.
The driving force behind NASA’s involvement includes not only the search for alien life forms but the question of safety in the skies.
The U.S. government already has an overarching agency that gathers data from the Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies about UAPs called the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office. The term UAP cropped up among U.S. military reports in the last two decades, referring to unidentified aerial phenomena, which has since been further relabeled as unidentified anomalous phenomena.
Unclassified military footage taken in the past two decades of Naval aviator encounters including one off the coast of Florida swelled more public and government interest, and as of last summer, more than 800 unexplained cases remained, according to AARO.
Nelson said while NASA needs time to react to the recommendations from the independent task force, it has already designated a NASA director of UAP research, who will act as liaison with AARO.
But NASA is not revealing the name of that person with members of the team citing the harassment they faced in the last year from conspiracy theorists.
“We at NASA, take the sanctity of the scientific process, and the security and safety of our team extremely seriously, and, yes, that’s in part why we are not splashing the name of our new director out there,” said Dan Evans, assistant deputy associate administrator for research at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
He said that in time the name of the official who has been in place for several months already will likely in time be revealed, but as this is the first day of NASA getting its hands on the report officially, Evans said for now, “Science needs to undergo a real, rigorous, irrational process and you need the freedom of thought to be able to do that. Some of the threats and the harassment have been beyond the pale, quite frankly, to some of our panelists and yes, it’s important that science be free as part of that process.”
Despite the secrecy behind that official, Nelson said the reason NASA was brought into the UAP discussion fold was because of its trustworthiness to the public, something the report said is essential to removing the stigma related to reporting UAP.
When pressed by reporters if NASA would reveal if it ever did find evidence of extraterrestrial life whether it would reveal it to the public, Nelson, who emphatically believes there is intelligent life in the universe, said, “You bet your boots. We will say that, and I’ve tried to set the table for you by telling you what I personally believe.”
“There’s so much concern that there’s something locked up classified and the American government is not being open,” he said. “Well, we are the American government and we are open and we’re going to be open about this,” adding “NASA’s not a place that’s gonna hide its head in the sand. We’re going to continue our search from a scientific point of view.”
The report, though, cites several methods that can be used now to help explain existing unexplained phenomena but potential methods to better investigate future ones.
“UAP are one of our planet’s greatest mysteries, and it’s really due to the limited number of high quality data that surrounds such incidents and often renders them unidentifiable,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “While there are numerous eyewitness accounts and visuals associated with UAP, they’re not consistent, they’re not detailed, and they’re not curated observations that can be used to make definitive scientific conclusions about the nature and the origin of UAP.”
The report called on NASA to use some of its existing satellites to hone in on areas where UAPs are spotted, but also implement its expertise with artificial intelligence and machine learning to muscle through vast amounts of data. But the report also said it needs more data, such as leaning on commercial companies with existing satellites and ground networks.
Astrophysicist David Spergel, the study panel’s chair and president of the Simons Foundation, held up his cell phone to illustrate one way the public could help in the data gathering as a form of citizen science.
“Much of what we have in mind is taking advantage of the fact that there’s several billion of these [cell phones] floating around, right? And they take wonderful high-quality images of high -quality metadata, record local magnetic field, sound, [and] gravitational fields. There’s a wealth of data that a cell phone takes, and you can imagine designing apps that make the images relatively tamper-free.”
The report also detailed how some of the most common eyes on UAPs are pilots that don’t have a centralized system for reporting what they’ve seen. One of the report’s suggestions is to use an existing system for pilots to anonymously report things such as close calls, hazards, violations and safety-related incidents to expand to UAP sightings.
The anonymity could assist in removing the stigma again, Spergel said.
“We want to shift the conversation about from sensationalism to science. I think of this in terms of the signs we see around for security, which say, ‘If you see something, say something.’ I think in this context, we would summarize it as, ‘If you see something, then collect high-quality data on it.”