Nasa has convened a public meeting to discuss sightings of unexplained phenomena in the sky.
The space agency has convened a panel to examine sightings of what it calls UAPs, or unidentified aerial phenomena, which many refer to as UFOs.
Now the group has given its first public discussion, ahead of a report due to be published later this year.
The space agency said the work was aimed at making it easier for people to report those UAPs, as well as to examine what exactly they might be.
But representatives said that the panel involved in the work had received sustained abuse that had got in the way of that work. “Harassment only leads to further stigmatisation of the UAP field, significantly hindering the scientific progress and discouraging others to study this important subject matter,” said Nicky Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate/
Nonetheless, Nasa said that it would be working to examine those reports of UAPs.
“The presence of UAPs raises concerns about the safety of our skies, and it’s this nation’s obligation to determine if these phenomena pose any potential risks to airspace safety,” said Daniel Evans, Nasa’s assistant deputy associate administrator for research.
The work is about safety but also the space agency’s “responsibility to be honest and forthright and to follow the science”, he said.
But the data on UAPs has so far been “fragmented”, according to the panel’s chair, David Spergel, with problems of imprecision and having information spread across different agencies. Those issues meant that it was difficult to provide conclusions on every reported UAP event.
He called for better data and joined other panelists in arguing that it should become less stigmatised for people to come forward about their sightings. Numerous panelists said that there was a “stigma” about reporting such phenomena that made it difficult to fully examine what might be going on.
He also gave possible explanations for some of those sightings of UAPs, pointing to the example of sprites, which is something like lightning in reverse and can be shocking to pilots. But he indicated that the group is yet to find an explanation for the various and often different UAPs reported by those who see them.
Many UAPs are examples of “mundane characteristics of readily explainable sources”, said Sean Kirkpatrick, director of the US Department of Defence’s all-domain anomaly resolution office or AARO. He said that only a very small number of UAP reports were truly unusual.
As an example, Dr Kirkpatrick showed a new video of what he said were three dots moving across the sky, at speeds that meant they were impossible for pilots to catch. But it was later established that the dots were just commercial planes, and that they were further away than they first appeared.
The 16-member panel includes experts in everything from physics to astrobiology, and began its work last June. Wednesday’s session is the first public hearings by the group – which itself represents the first such inquiry into unidentified aerial phenomena by Nasa.
The NASA study is separate from a newly formalized Pentagon-based investigation of unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, documented in recent years by military aviators and analyzed by U.S. defense and intelligence officials.
The parallel NASA and Pentagon efforts - both undertaken with some semblance of public scrutiny - highlight a turning point for the government after decades spent deflecting, debunking and discrediting sightings of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, dating back to the 1940s.
The term UFOs, long associated with notions of flying saucers and aliens, has been replaced in government parlance by “UAP.”
While NASA‘s science mission was seen by some as promising a more open-minded approach to a topic long treated as taboo by the defense establishment, the U.S. space agency made it known from the start that it was hardly leaping to any conclusions.
“There is no evidence UAPs are extraterrestrial in origin,” NASA said in announcing the panel’s formation last June.
In its more recent statements, the agency presented a new potential wrinkle to the UAP acronym itself, referring to it as an abbreviation for “unidentified anomalous phenomena.” This suggested that sightings other than those that appeared airborne may be included.
Still, NASA in announcing Wednesday’s meeting, said the space agency defines UAPs “as observations of events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or known natural phenomena from a scientific perspective.”
U.S. defense officials have said the Pentagon’s recent push to investigate such sightings has led to hundreds of new reports that are under examination, though most remain categorized as unexplained.
The head of the Pentagon’s newly formed All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) has said the existence of intelligent alien life has not been ruled out but that no sighting had produced evidence of extraterrestrial origins.
Additional reporting by agencies
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