If you think there are UFOs glimmering above rooftops or aliens stored in secret storage rooms in the New Mexico desert, today’s NASA briefing was not for you.
But in terms of how governments and scientists manage the public’s fascination with aliens, it’s a significant one.
For starters, UFOs are out. The acronym chosen by NASA is UAP – Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena. Less catchy, but more scientifically accurate.
Because, in the words of NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, their review of UAPs is designed to “shift the conversation around UAP from sensationalism to science.”
And according to the new report, there is currently no scientific evidence that UAPs are extraterrestrial.
But that doesn’t mean they should be ignored, it finds. Stating: “A vital part of NASA’s role is to explore the unknown.”
Ever since people have seen objects in the sky, there has been a problem. One that has helped fuel conjecture and conspiracy theories about what they are.
And there is a lack of concrete data.
Most of these events are fleeting, one-off events. A shiny object on a video or a blip on a radar screen. Without data it is very difficult to prove what they are.
Among this report’s recommendations is that more of NASA’s assets and data could be used to better understand unexplained sightings.
There could also be more coordination and data sharing between civil and commercial operators of radars and satellites to better understand the problem.
Since most UAP sightings that are investigated turn out to be other aircraft, drones or balloons, systems can be improved to spot them.
And by doing so, you help identify the truly curious ones that might, who knows, be of truly unexplained origin.
Put another way, “if you want to find a needle in a haystack, you better know what hay looks like,” said astrophysicist Dr. David Spergel, who chaired the Independent UAP Committee for NASA.
According to NASA, there is justification for the effort. Simply because they are unidentified, UAPs can pose a real risk to aviation. Knowing more about what and where they are is important for safety.
And that leads to another key conclusion of the report. Many people, including professional pilots, are reluctant to report unexplained sightings because of the tin-foil hat stigma attached to “UFO” sightings.
The report recommends using standard aviation safety reporting systems to log UAP sightings as a way to “destigmatize” them. That, NASA suggests, will lead to more data and more understanding.
The real search for extraterrestrial life is focused on rocky planets like ours that orbit distant stars.
Only last week was the possibility of a chemical signature associated with life discovered around planet K2-18 b, 120 light years from Earth using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
It will remain NASA’s primary focus for finding alien life. NASA Associate Administrator Nicola Fox confirmed to me today that while there will be new data sharing and research time spent studying UAPs, no new missions or science programs are planned to specifically study them.
Will today’s report satisfy those who believe there are public cover-ups to hide encounters with strangers? Probably not.
But it’s an official acknowledgment that it’s not just OK to wonder — it’s positively encouraged to be curious — and share any weird observations you might have.