NASA is taking “concrete action” to explore the potential threat of UFOs following the release of a landmark report into the phenomena.
The agency’s administrator, Bill Nelson, said it was time to “shift the conversation from sensationalist to science”, having received the recommendations of an independent panel tasked with looking into years of sightings.
Scientists have released findings on ‘UAPs’ – latest updates
While the 16-team panel stressed there is “no reason to conclude” that any sightings have been alien in origin, their report warned any mysterious flying objects were a “self-evident” threat to American airspace.
Their 33-page report said NASA should play a larger role in detecting such phenomena – and the agency has already appointed its first director of UFO research to lead the way.
NASA is also seeking to rename UFOs to UAPs (unidentified anomalous phenomena) to remove a “stigma” that can prevent people from reporting sightings.
Mr Nelson told a news briefing after the report’s release: “We are looking for signs of life, past and present, and it is in our DNA to explore and to ask why things are the way they are.”
He said “we all are entertained by Indiana Jones in the Amazon finding the crystal skull”, citing the impact of Hollywood and pop culture on people’s fascination with the topic.
“There’s a lot of folklore out there. That’s why we entered the arena: to get into this from a science point of view.”
Mr Nelson acknowledged that with billions of stars in billions of galaxies out there, another Earth could exist.
He said: “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.”
His own scientists put the likelihood of life on another Earth-like planet at “at least a trillion”.
Analysis: What NASA report means for search for extraterrestrial life
NASA given recommendations to help demystify UAPs
Thursday’s report came over a year after the space agency announced it was forming an independent team of scientists tasked with looking into UFO sightings.
It held its first public meeting back in May, where the panel said while there had been a rise in reported sightings, barely any could be deemed “anomalous”.
Previous sightings have been put down to drones, while others have ended up being satellites.
The report made a number of recommendations for how NASA should approach the topic in future.
• Utilise its Earth observation tools, like the James Webb Space Telescope, to investigate whether there are environmental conditions associated with UAP
• Leverage the private space industry’s vast constellations of satellites to look out for UAPs, so we are less reliant on grainy camera footage for potential sightings
• Consider how AI and machine learning can be leveraged to help detect UAP and gather more data
• Improve public engagement, perhaps by looking into the development of a smartphone app to gather images from citizen observer
• Better leverage the existing reporting system for commercial pilots
New director to remain unnamed due to ‘hostile’ threats
Mr Nelson said the newly-appointed director for UAP research would help NASA implement the recommendations.
But the person in the role, who has already started work, will not be named due to threats made to the panel.
Study chairman David Spergel said members had been “harassed” by “nasty and hostile” people online.
Mr Spergel said he understood the public’s interest in the mystery of UAPs, but stressed that most were planes, weather events, drones, or balloons.
But he warned any such objects could still prove dangerous to American airspace.
Ahead of the report, Dr Daniel Evans, NASA’s assistant deputy associate administrator for research, said the UAP renaming aimed to convey to the public that the topic is “serious business”.
But the possibility of aliens has continued to make headlines this year, not least because of a first-of-its-kind Congressional hearing about the topic earlier this summer.
Among those who gave evidence was a former US intelligence official who claimed “non-human biologics” have been recovered from crash sites and covered up.
Sky News’ science and technology editor Tom Clarke said the report was significant because it didn’t set out to completely dismiss accounts of unexplained phenomena.
Instead, it’s designed to outline what data we need to better explain them and where they come from.
Clarke said: “It concludes that while there is no scientific evidence for UAPs of extra-terrestrial origin, that shouldn’t mean we don’t make an effort to investigate them.”