A team of independent scientists convened by NASA has released a 33-page report outlining how the agency can aid in research into Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP)—known more commonly as UFOs. Following the report’s publication, NASA appointed Mark McInerney as its first director of UAP research.
“This is the first time that NASA has taken concrete action to seriously look into UAP,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a news conference about the report, per CNN’s Jackie Wattles. “We start this without any preconceived notions but understanding that we’re in a world of discovery.”
The report recommends that NASA use its resources, technological expertise, partnerships and Earth-observing satellites to help create a dataset to understand future UAP. It also suggests using crowdsourcing techniques, such as smartphone apps, to allow citizen scientists to submit observations.
Most reports of UAP have mundane explanations—they turn out to be objects such as weather balloons, drones or planes. But in a handful of cases, the origins of the phenomena remain unclear, prompting conjectures of aliens. As of now, however, scientists have found “no conclusive evidence” suggesting UAP have extraterrestrial origins, per the report. Still, alien technology cannot be completely ruled out—though it should only be used as the “hypothesis of last resort—the answer we turn to only after ruling out all other possibilities,” the report states.
Yet, even if UAP aren’t alien-related, they may represent some new scientific phenomena, and more research into these mysterious objects could be valuable.
“One of the main goals of what we’re trying to do here today is to move conjecture and conspiracy towards science and sanity,” Dan Evans, NASA’s assistant deputy associate administrator for research, said at the conference, per the New York Times’ Kenneth Chang. “And you do that with data.”
More data could also reduce the stigma around reporting UAP, David Spergel, an astrophysicist who is president of the Simons Foundation and served as the chair of the UAP panel, said at the conference. Several members of the UAP panel received threats because of their work, and the agency withheld the new UAP research director’s name for several hours after announcing his appointment due to fears of harassment.
“Stigma has limited reporting by pilots, both civilian and military,” Spergel said, per the Times.
UAP and extraterrestrials have captured public attention recently. Earlier this week, a self-proclaimed ufologist presented two alleged “alien” specimens to the Mexican Congress. Photos of the bodies quickly went viral online, though scientists doubt their authenticity, calling the display shameful and not backed by evidence. (Spergel addressed these claims while releasing NASA’s report, saying, “If you have something strange, make samples available to the world scientific community, and we’ll see what’s there.”)
Last year, the U.S. Congress held its first UFO hearing in five decades, and in July, a former U.S. military official testified at another hearing that the government is in possession of non-human “biologics” from UAP crash sites.
While NASA has not previously been directly involved in investigating UAP, one of its goals is to look for evidence of life in space. In 2020, the NASA rover Perseverance launched with the aim of finding microbial signs of past life on Mars. The agency’s Kepler Space Telescope has been looking for Earth-like exoplanets for years, and the James Webb Space Telescope has spotted several worlds with components necessary for life.
Many researchers agree that it’s possible—maybe even probable—that life exists on distant planets, but NASA Administrator Nelson says the probability that extraterrestrials have reached Earth is low, per Reuters’ Joey Roulette.
“If you ask me, do I believe there’s life in a universe that’s so vast that it’s hard for me to comprehend how big it is, my personal answer is, ‘yes,’” he said at the news conference, per Reuters.