ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / Contributor via Getty Images
NASA has published the final report of its unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP) independent study team, a group of 16 experts that the agency convened last year to study observations of events and objects that can’t easily be explained.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson also announced that NASA has appointed an official director of UAP research to oversee future research into the topic at the agency at a press briefing on Thursday that followed the release of the 36-page report. NASA declined to provide the name of the director at this time.
Astrophysicist David Spergel, who chaired the study and serves as the president of the Simons Foundation, said in the briefing that his team found “no evidence to suggest that UAP are extraterrestrial in origin” and noted that most UAP events can be explained by things like “balloons, drones, weather phenomenon, and instrument features.”
Even so, Spergel and his colleagues acknowledged the immense public interest in UAPs and expressed a commitment to developing better strategies for identifying sightings that have remained unexplained.
“There is a global fascination with UAP,” Nelson said during the briefing. “On my travels, one of the first questions I often get is about these sightings and much of that fascination is due to the unknown nature of it.”
“This independent study team brought together some of the world's leading scientists, data and artificial intelligence experts, aerospace safety specialists—all with a specific charge from me, which is to tell how to apply the full focus of science and data to UAP. This is the first time that NASA has taken concrete action to seriously look into UAP.”
The team emphasized the value of continued reports about UAP by both specialists, such as pilots, as well as the public, and reiterated NASA’s commitment to reducing stigma surrounding the topic. In addition to unraveling the nature of these events, the report also noted that “the threat to U.S. airspace safety posed by UAP is self-evident,” providing another reason to develop a “whole-of-government framework” for studying these sightings.
To that end, the report recommends that NASA partner with the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), a newly formed office in the U.S. Department of Defense that investigates UAPs, to develop a standardized system for filing civilian UAP reports, as well as working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to coordinate reports from pilots and aviation specialists.
“Engaging the public is also a critical aspect of understanding UAP,” according to the report. “The panel sees several advantages to augmenting data collection efforts using modern crowdsourcing techniques, including open-source smartphone-based apps that simultaneously gather imaging data and other smartphone sensor metadata from multiple citizen observers worldwide.”
“The negative perception surrounding the reporting of UAP poses an obstacle to collecting data on these phenomena,” the report added. “NASA’s very involvement in UAP will play a vital role in reducing stigma associated with UAP reporting, which almost certainly leads to data attrition at present. NASA’s long-standing public trust, which is essential for communicating findings about these phenomena to citizens, is crucial for destigmatizing UAP reporting. The scientific processes used by NASA encourage critical thinking; NASA can model for the public how to best approach the study of UAP, by utilizing transparent reporting, rigorous analysis, and public engagement.”
The team concluded that NASA’s immense datasets could play a crucial role in narrowing down the origins and nature of specific observations, as well as analyzing large datasets of UAPs with artificial intelligence and machine learning efforts. While most NASA’s satellites and observatories do not have the resolution to independently image anomalous events, they could provide valuable context about the environmental conditions that coincide with UAP sightings. For even higher resolution imagery, Spergel and his colleagues suggested that NASA and other government agencies partner with the private sector.
“Commercial satellite constellations provide imagery at sub- to several-meter spatial resolution, which is well-matched to the typical spatial scales of known UAP. In addition, the high temporal cadence offered by commercial remote-sensing networks can substantially increase the likelihood of providing retroactive coverage of UAP events that are initially observed via other means.”
“Beyond this, the panel applauds the efforts undertaken in the private sector and U.S. academic community to employ one or more inexpensive ground-based sensors that are capable of surveying large areas of the sky,” the team added. “Such sensors, which could potentially be rapidly deployed to areas of known UAP activity may play a key role in establishing so-called ‘pattern-of-activity’ trends, as well as potentially the physical characteristics of UAP themselves.”
The report is decorated with objects and phenomena that were initially reported as UAP, and were later identified with conventional origins. While most UAP fall into these identifiable categories, and there’s no evidence to suggest that aliens have ever visited Earth, Nelson nevertheless said that he personally believes that extraterrestrial life exists somewhere in the universe.
“We are looking for signs of life, past and present, and it's in our DNA to explore and to ask why things are the way they are,” Nelson said.