On September 14, 2023, NASA’s eagerly awaited report on UFOs was published by its autonomous research team.
In part to overcome the stigma often attached to UFOs, where military pilots fear ridicule or job sanctions if they report them, the U.S. government now characterizes UFOs as UAPs, or Unidentified Abnormal Phenomena.
Bottom line: The research team found no evidence that the reported UAP sightings were extraterrestrial.
I am a professor of astronomy who has written extensively on astrobiology and scientists searching for life in the universe. I have long been skeptical of the claim that UFOs represent alien visits to Earth.
From sensationalism to science
In a press conference, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated that NASA has scientific programs to search for traces of life on Mars and traces of biology in the atmospheres of exoplanets. He said he wanted to shift the UAP debate from sensationalism to science.
With this statement, Nelson was referring to some of the more outlandish claims about UAPs and UFOs.
At a congressional hearing in July, former Pentagon intelligence officer David Grusch testified that the US government has hidden evidence of crashed UAP devices and alien biological samples.
Sean Kirkpatrick, director of the Pentagon office responsible for investigating UAPs, has denied these claims.
And the same week the NASA report was released, journalist Jaime Maussan showed Mexican lawmakers two small, 1,000-year-old corpses that he claimed were the remains of “non-humans.”
Researchers have called this claim fraudulent and say the mummies may have been looted from tombs in Peru.
Conclusions from the report
The NASA research team’s report sheds little light on whether some UAPs are extraterrestrial.
In his comments, the chair of the research team, astronomer David Spergel, stated that the team had seen “no evidence that the UAPs are of extraterrestrial origin”.
Of the more than 800 unclassified observations collected by the Defense Department’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office and reported at the NASA panel’s first public meeting in May 2023, only “a small handful cannot be immediately identified as known human-caused or natural phenomena,” according to the report.
Many of the recent sightings are due to balloons and airborne clutter. Historically, most UFOs are astronomical objects such as meteors, fireballs, and the planet Venus.
Some of the sightings represent surveillance by foreign powers, which is why the US military considers this a matter of national security.
The report provides NASA with recommendations for moving these studies forward.
Most of the UAP data processed by the research team comes from US military aircraft. Analysis of this data is “complicated by poor sensor calibration, lack of multiple measurements, lack of sensor metadata, and lack of baseline data.”
An ideal suite of measurements includes optical imaging, infrared imaging, and radar data, but few reports have all of these.
In the report, the NASA research team described the types of data that can shed more light on UAPs.
The authors point out that it is important to reduce the stigma that can make both military and commercial pilots feel that they cannot freely report sightings.
The stigma stems from decades of conspiracy theories tied to UFOs.
NASA’s research team suggests gathering observations from commercial pilots with the help of the Federal Aviation Administration and combining them with classified observations not included in the report.
Members of the team did not have security clearance, so they could only view a subset of military observations that were unclassified.
There is currently no anonymous national UAP reporting mechanism for commercial pilots.
The All-Diagnostic Investigation Office—the military agency tasked with leading the analysis effort—may have the most information because they have access to these classified sightings and commercial pilots have a systematic mechanism to report sightings.
NASA also announced the appointment of a new director of UAP research. This task oversees the creation of a database with resources for evaluating UAP findings.
Let’s look for a needle in a haystack
Parts of the information session resembled the basis of the scientific method. Using analogies, officials described the analysis process as looking for a needle in a haystack or separating wheat from chaff.
Officials said they needed a consistent and rigorous method for characterizing sightings as a way to access something truly unusual.
Spergel said the research team’s goal was to characterize hay — or mundane phenomena — and whittle it down to find a needle or a potentially exciting discovery.
He pointed out that artificial intelligence can help scientists search through huge data sets to find rare, anomalous phenomena. Artificial intelligence is already used in this way in many fields of astronomical research.
The speakers noted the importance of transparency. Transparency is important because UFOs have long been linked to conspiracy theories and government cover-ups.
Likewise, much of the discussion at the Congressional UAP hearing in July focused on the need for transparency.
All scientific data collected by NASA is made public on several websites, and officials said they plan to do the same with unclassified UAP data.
At the beginning of the press conference, Nelson expressed his opinion that there might be a trillion lives beyond Earth.
So it is likely that there is intelligent life. But the report says that when it comes to UAPs, extraterrestrial life must be the last hypothesis.
It quotes Thomas Jefferson: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” That evidence doesn’t exist yet. (Talk) FZH