NASA has set up a panel to investigate unidentified flying objects (UFOs) or what it calls unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP).
The panel has collected around 800 reports of UAPs, but only 2% to 5% of them are “possibly really anomalous”, according to Sean Kirkpatrick, director of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO).
The panel held its first public meeting on Wednesday and shared some of its findings.
Some of the UAPs turned out to be commercial aircraft, optical illusions, or microwave signals.
For example, a video taken by a naval aircraft over the western US showed a series of dots moving across the night sky, which were later identified as a plane heading towards a major airport.
Another example was a burst of radio waves picked up by researchers in Australia, which were caused by a microwave used to heat up their lunches.
However, some of the UAPs remain unexplained and could be extra-terrestrial in origin. A separate Pentagon report in 2021 said that of 144 sightings by military pilots made since 2004, all but one remained unexplained. Officials did not rule out the possibility that the objects are alien spacecraft.
The panel also faced some challenges in collecting and interpreting data on UAPs. One of them was privacy concerns, as Mr Kirkpatrick said that most people do not like it when NASA points its “entire collection apparatus” at their backyard.
Another challenge was the stigma and harassment that commercial pilots face when they report sightings.
David Spergel, chair of Nasa’s UAP team, said that one of their goals is to remove the stigma and encourage high quality data collection.
The panel will issue a report later this year with more details and recommendations on how to address the UAP issue.
Scott Kelly, a former astronaut and pilot who participated in the meeting, said that he was “very impressed” by the panel’s work and hoped that it would lead to more scientific understanding of the phenomena.
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