NASA is putting a team together to study unidentified aerial phenomena, popularly known as UFOs, the US space agency said Thursday.The team will gather data on “events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or known natural phenomena — from a scientific perspective,” the agency said.
NASA said it was interested in UAPs from a security and safety perspective. There was no evidence UAPs are extraterrestrial in origin, NASA added. The study will begin this fall and is expected to take nine months.
“NASA believes that the tools of scientific discovery are powerful and apply here also,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.
“We have access to a broad range of observations of Earth from space — and that is the lifeblood of scientific inquiry. We have the tools and team who can help us improve our understanding of the unknown. That’s the very definition of what science is. That’s what we do.”The team will be led by astrophysicist David Spergel, who is president of the Simons Foundation in New York City. NASA said the limited number of observations of UAPs made it difficult to draw scientific conclusions about the nature of such events.
“Given the paucity of observations, our first task is simply to gather the most robust set of data that we can,” said Spergel, professor emeritus and formerly chair of the department of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University in New Jersey. “We will be identifying what data — from civilians, government, non-profits, companies — exists, what else we should try to collect, and how to best analyze it.”A first step for the team would be to attempt to establish which UAPs are natural, NASA said.
The search for life
NASA has long been tasked with finding life elsewhere, which is why astrobiology programs are part of the agency’s focus, Zurbuchen said. The Perseverance rover is currently searching for signs of ancient life that may have once existed on Mars while future missions are being developed to seek signs of life on ocean worlds in our solar system. The agency seeks to explore the unknown in air and space, Zurbuchen said.
“We’re looking for the question of whether certain environments are in fact part of, if you want, the ladder of life that got us to where we are,” he said during news conference Thursday. The agency will approach the UAP study like they would any other science study — taking a field that is poor in data and making it worthy of scientific investigation and analysis.
“There’s many times where something that looked almost magical turned out to be a new scientific effect,” Zurbuchen said.Given the national security and air safety issues that have been raised with UAPs, scientists want to look at the observations and establish if these are natural or need to be explained otherwise. While talking about UAPs in a traditional science environment may be looked down on or regarded as something not related to science, Zurbuchen “vehemently opposes that.””I really believe that the quality of science is not only measured by the outputs that come behind it, but also the questions we’re willing to tackle with science,” he said.