NASA (the US space agency) held a meeting on UFOs on Wednesday. On the occasion of this unusual event that took place in Washington, the American capital, a panel of experts appointed by the agency to study the issue hammered the need to collect more data to explain these phenomena.
"Existing data and witness accounts are insufficient to provide conclusive evidence about the nature and origin of each event," said David Spergel, an astrophysicist who presided over the work. "We need high-quality data." A report is due to be published during the summer, detailing how to achieve this.
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NASA announced last year the launch of this work on unidentified flying objects, and appointed 16 experts in October to conduct it. Among them, eminent scientists, but also officials of the American regulator of civil aviation (FAA), or former astronaut Scott Kelly. Their purpose is not to review one by one the events observed in the past in an attempt to explain them. It is to make recommendations to NASA on how to study them rigorously in the future.
"Unidentified anomalous phenomena"
The subject is very serious, the agency stressed: it concerns both national security and air traffic. But it also arouses a strong interest because of the word UFO, very connoted. The official term has been replaced by "unidentified anomalous phenomena". "At present, we have no explicit data to suggest that there is a connection between unidentified anomalous phenomena and extraterrestrial life," said David Grinspoon, one of the scientists on the panel.
For David Spergel, the difficulty of tackling this question lies in the fact that some "are convinced of the existence of UFOs", while at the opposite extreme, others find the subject "ridiculous". Nicola Fox, associate administrator at NASA, opened the session by condemning the online harassment of panel members.
NASA unveils the video of a UFO during its first conference on the subject pic.twitter.com/gTqk1AiGbJ
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800 unidentified aerial phenomena have been collected, Sean Kirkpatrick, director of the Department of Defense's Office of Defense (AARO), said Wednesday. But "maybe only between 2% and 5%" are "really abnormal," he said. He screened two videos. A first showed a spherical object seen in the Middle East in 2022, still unexplained to this day. A second video showed three dots seeming to move back and forth in an enigmatic way. These were actually planes in an air corridor, whose back and forth movements were caused by oscillations of the sensor itself, he explained.
Better integrate public input
The meeting also devoted time to questions from the audience. This transparency is highlighted by NASA, which stresses the need to "destigmatize" the subject. To this end, the panel's work is based solely on public data; They are thus accessible to all and can be discussed freely. David Spergel added that classified information is often classified not because of the object observed, but rather not to reveal certain characteristics of the devices that captured the image (fighter jets ...). In the future, observations will have to be collected by specific, multiple and well-calibrated instruments, he said. However, he dismissed the idea of a dedicated satellite.
Instead, the recommendations will likely include avenues to better incorporate public input. The billions of mobile phones on Earth can provide useful data, especially if multiple images are taken simultaneously. Mike Gold, a former NASA official on the panel, advocated for the creation of a dedicated office within the space agency.
According to David Grinspoon, "If NASA applies the same methodological rigour to the study of unidentified anomalous phenomena as it does to that of possible extraterrestrial life, then we will be in a position to learn something new and interesting, whatever the final explanation."