An independent study shows how NASA can help understand unidentified anomalous phenomena, more colloquially known as UFOs.

Red sprites above Earth
People have long seen "sprites," an orange-red light that was only recently explained as an atmospheric phenomenon.
Jesper Grønne / S&T Online Photo Gallery

NASA has announced the results of a independent study commissioned to determine how the agency can contribute to understanding unidentified anomalous phenomena. UAPs are defined as objects or events that can’t (yet) be traced back to known objects such as aircraft, balloons, drones, or known natural phenomena including aurora or special types of lightning.

It’s worth noting that the panel in charge of this study was not commissioned to evaluate existing reports of UAPs (or UFOs, as they are more commonly known). The panel determined early on that they simply don’t have the data to evaluate past events, nor do they have any firm evidence indicating anything truly alien, and they confirmed that in yesterday's press conference. “We find no evidence to suggest that UAP are extraterrestrial in origin,” says David Spergel (Simons Foundation), who chaired the panel.

Rather than evaluating past reports, NASA’s goal is to evaluate future ones. The panel was therefore charged to see what resources NASA can bring to bear on systematic and scientific investigations of UAPs.

“UAPs are one of our planet's greatest mysteries,” says Nikki Fox, who heads NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, “and it's really due to the limited number of high-quality data surrounding such incidents that often renders them unidentifiable.”

The issue is three-fold: First, UAP reports are typically single sightings and lack multiple measurements. Those individual reports also often lack sensor metadata, such as the exact time of the event, the type of sensor, its noise characteristics, and other details. Finally, there’s a lack of baseline data to help understand whether an event is truly unusual.

The panel thinks NASA can help with that. The agency has Earth-observing satellites that are always monitoring our planet, but their images don’t have the sharpness to resolve UAP events. They can, however, monitor background conditions and provide the missing baseline data.

Meanwhile, commercial satellites do offer imagery with resolution from several meters to even under a meter. They are thus capable of providing a second measurement of a reported event. Those satellites, though, do not observe everywhere all the time, so detections would need to involve either rapid follow-up or serendipity.

Part of NASA’s efforts are aimed at destigmatizing the reporting of UAPs. When the U.S. Department of Defense began encouraging military aviators to report UAPs, the number of reports went up from 263 reported over a period of 17 years to 247 new reports over 1½ years (between March 5, 2021, and August 30, 2022). The DoD now has collected more than 800 reported events.

The panel suggests NASA could also help provide the framework for civilians to report UAPs. There’s no standardized system in place to do that now — the Federal Aviation Administration directs civilian reports to local law enforcement or to non-governmental organizations, leading to unreliable data.

Once data are collected in a scientific way, the panel then advocates two possible approaches to identifying UAPs. First, the panel rejects the idea of looking for UAPs specifically, because we simply don’t know enough about what they would look like. Instead, the approach they advocate is to understand the background properties of an environment, and then to search for unusual events that deviate from those expected conditions.

Up, Up and Away
Mate Airman Harley Houston releases a weather balloon from aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. Balloons, whether for measuring atmospheric conditions or providing internet, are often observed as UAPs.
U.S. Navy

Some events, for example sunlight glinting off a drone or the appearance of a balloon, aren’t all that unexpected. Once we know what those events look like, the focus can turn to truly unusual events.

Another possibility is to follow up on the locations and times of individual reported UAPs using NASA’s extensive databases. This could even be done after the fact, using archival data, and such studies could be applied systematically, across an extensive list of UAP reports.

In the report, the panel writes, “It is increasingly clear that the majority of UAP observations can be attributed to known phenomena or occurrences.” So the first step to understanding UAPs will be to explain what can be explained, before turning attention to the unexplained.

Identifying UAPs goes beyond the possibility of extraterrestrials. The panelists also reports a desire to learn whether these objects or events pose a threat. “The presence of UAPs raises serious concerns about the safety of our skies,” says Dan Evans, NASA’s assistant deputy associate administrator for research. “Let's not forget that the first ‘A’ in NASA is aeronautics.”

The panel that wrote this report, composed of 16 experts from diverse backgrounds, was independent of NASA, so the agency will now have to review the report. Already, NASA has decided to create a new position to oversee the study of UAPs, appointing Mark McInerney as director of UAP research.

In other words, this panel’s report is only the beginning. We can expect to hear a lot more about UAPs from NASA.


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September 15, 2023 at 6:04 pm

Among a number of programs there was government funded Project Blue Book. The DoD had their program. What is NASA's source of funds? The common factor is government.

IF there are alien craft known to any Earth governments what measures could be taken to maintain absolute secrecy decade after decade?

Are UFO/UAP phenomena evidence of advanced earthly R&D drones?

IF aliens were real what would earthling reaction be?

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September 18, 2023 at 12:46 am

So the panel also didn’t have any evidence to indicate either way and that some UAP may possibly be extraterrestrial in origin correct.
NASA MUST approach this subject without any predetermined opinions about extraterrestrial potential or the entire effort will loose credibility with the public.

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Yaron Sheffer

September 19, 2023 at 2:23 pm

Does NASA have any credibility left at all? They are wasting time, energy, money, resources, man hours, and trans-man hours, on UFOlogy instead of doing real science!
And then you have the public who denies the Moon landings. So if NASA can fake those (unsuccessfully, it seems), then they can fake any UFOlogy conclusions.

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Yaron Sheffer

September 19, 2023 at 2:14 pm

NASA should definitely send investigators to 504 Battery Drive in Manhattan, NYC. There have been numerous reports of alien activity centered at that location, as per documentaries shown on HBO. 😀

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Tom Hoffelder

September 20, 2023 at 10:32 am

It's about time that someone with a clue is looking into this. And not trying to look into past reports is the absolute correct thing to do. The only reason all those past reports are unidentified is because there wasn't enough information provided to make an identification. If aliens ever get here, we'll know it immediately. But, based on the book Rare Earth, we don't have to worry.

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September 22, 2023 at 10:18 pm

I think a standard reporting system is needed for UAP/UFO sightings. Perhaps that becomes the only positive outcome from the NASA committee. I’m sure that many of the past reports can be explained by natural phenomena, however how can that be concluded if all past reporting are said to be lacking enough data. With that being said , how could ANYONE conclude a finding that there is no proof of extraterrestrial involvement as reported by the committee preliminary report.

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September 25, 2023 at 9:15 pm

There's already a "national UFO reporting center", not "official" or gubmint supported of course. The guy used to show up regularly on late night talk radio and would read off the best ones from the last week or so.

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