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NASA Launches Independent Study on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena

Published: June 10, 2022
The silhouette of US engineer and NASA astronaut Megan McArthur is seen past the NASA logo in the Webb Auditorium at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC, on June 7, 2022. (Image: STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

On June 9, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced via a press release that it is commissioning a study team to examine unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), otherwise known as unidentified flying objects (UFOs), from a scientific perspective. 

“The study will focus on identifying available data, how best to collect future data, and how NASA can use that data to move the scientific understanding of UAPs forward,” the release reads. 

A former Navy pilot revealed in May, 2021 that he witnessed UAP flying in restricted airspace off the coast of Virginia nearly every day for two years beginning in 2019. 

Last year, former Navy Lt. Ryan Graves told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he believes UAPs represent a security threat. “I am worried, frankly. You know, if these were tactical jets from another country that were hanging out up there, it would be a massive issue. But because it looks slightly different we’re not willing to actually look at the problem in the face. We’re happy to just ignore the fact that these are out there, watching us every day,” he said at the time. 

NASA says its study will be completely independent from other initiatives into the phenomena including efforts by the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington believes NASA is perfectly poised to collect and analyze data concerning the phenomena. “We have access to a broad range of observations of Earth from space — and this 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,” he said according to the press release. 

The team will be led by astrophysicist David Spergel, who is president of the Simons Foundation in New York City and previously chaired the astrophysics department at Princeton University. 

The assistant deputy associate administrator for research at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Daniel Evans, will serve as the NASA official responsible for conducting the study. 

“Given the paucity of observations, our first task is simply to gather the most robust set of data that we can,” Spergel said, adding that, “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.”

NASA will launch the study in early fall this year and expects the work to take approximately 9-months to complete. “It will secure the counsel of experts in the scientific, aeronautics, and data analytics communities to focus on how best to collect new data and improve observations of UAPs,” the press release reads. 

The administration says its findings will be shared with the general public, consistent with NASAs principles of “openness, transparency, and scientific integrity.”

Evan’s said, “All of NASA’s data is available to the public — we take that obligation seriously — and we make it easily accessible for anyone to see or study.”

The study’s high-level goals are to establish which events are natural and to provide a “key first step” to identify or mitigate such phenomena and to ensure the safety of aircraft. 

Per the press release NASA asserts that “There is no evidence UAPs are extra-terrestrial in origin.”


NASA’s search for life

NASA has a robust program in place that is scouring the solar system, the galaxy and the universe at large for signs of life. 

Although unrelated to this study, NASA has an active astrobiology program that focuses “on the origins, evolution, and distribution of life beyond Earth.” 

From studying water found on Mars to probing “ocean worlds” such as Saturn’s largest moon Titan, or Europa — one of four Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter —  NASA’s science missions “are working together with a goal to find signs of life beyond Earth.”

The administration’s search for life includes using missions such as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the Hubble Space Telescope. 

The recently launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was specifically designed to be able to spot biosignatures in atmospheres around distant exoplanets. 

The JWST has the ability to spot oxygen and carbon dioxide in other atmospheres, which could suggest that an exoplanet supports vegetation and animals similar to how Earth does. 

NASA also funds space-based research that focuses on technosignatures, “that is signatures of advanced technology in outer space – from other planets.”