NASA announced a new study that will recruit leading scientists to examine unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), or UFOs as they are more commonly but less accurately known.

The US space agency said on Thursday the team would take around nine months to examine “events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or known natural phenomena” through a “scientific perspective.”

“I spent most of my career as a cosmologist. I can tell you we don’t know what makes up 95% of the universe. So there are things we don’t understand,” David Spergel, who formerly headed Princeton University’s astrophysics department and who will lead the team, said.

NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen acknowledged the traditional scientific community might consider the agency was “kind of selling out” by venturing into the controversial topic. “We are not shying away from reputational risk,” he added.

However, in announcing the study, NASA also blankly stated there was no evidence UAPs were extraterrestrial in origin.

NASA and the US government tend do favor the UAP acronym over the term UFO that was popularized in the 1950s, with one reason being that UAP does not specify that the sighting is in fact an object, leaving open other possibilities like atmospheric phenomena or even mirages.

How will they do it?

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

The team would also focus on the best ways to gather future data and how it can use that information to advance scientific understanding of the issue.

The US Defense Department recently declassified evidence of unidentified flying objects

The US Defense Department says it now has reports from military personnel of at least 400 UAP encounters, it released excerpts of footage and pilots’ cockpit audio last year

The agency considers it as only the first step in trying to explain mysterious sightings in the sky.

“Our strong belief is that the biggest challenge of these phenomena is that it’s a data-poor field,” Zurbuchen said.

NASA said the report would be shared publicly and stressed it was not part of the US government’s investigation of UAPs.

US government also wondering if UAPs could be man-made

Last year the US government released a report, compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in conjunction with a Navy-led task force, detailing observations mostly by Navy personnel of UAPs.

It could not determine the nature of unidentified aerial sightings because there was not enough data to study each of them.

A US official said it was not their duty to determine whether the sightings were of extraterrestrial origin, in fact Congress had charged the committee with looking into the issue from a national security perspective, and particularly “whether this unidentified aerial phenomena activity may be attributed to one or more foreign adversaries.” 

Last month US Defense department officials acknowledged many observations remain beyond the government’s ability to explain.

They said there were close to 400 reports from military personnel of possible encounters with UAPs since 2004.

They were testifying at a House Intelligence subcommittee, the first congressional hearing on UAPs in more than 50 years.

lo/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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