NASA Holds Panel on UFOs

Do you believe in UFOs? For decades, the U.S. government claimed that flying saucers were the stuff of science fiction. But on June 2, 2023, for the first time ever, NASA held a public meeting on the subject of UFOs, which it calls UAPs (unidentified anomalous phenomena). According to NASA, there have been about eight hundred reports of such objects by authorities. NASA also says that only a handful of those reports remain truly unexplained. Here, btw takes a look at some of the answers –and questions–to come out of the public meeting, and what the future of UFO research might look like. 

Planet Earth with a spectacular sunset "Elements of this image furnished by NASA"
Planet Earth with a spectacular sunset “Elements of this image furnished by NASA”;

NASA’s Findings 

In 2022, NASA created an official, independent panel to consider unidentified objects. The panel consists of sixteen members and includes leading scientific experts in a wide range of fields, from physics to astrobiology. The panel examines only reports from civilian observers, because these are unclassified. This means that information can be shared openly between scientists, the government, and the public. At the four-hour public meeting, the panel revealed that out of all of the reports of UFOs, only two to five percent truly cannot be explained. Most of the reports wind up being everyday things, like aircraft, debris, or microwaves. But what about the rest? NASA claims that it is unable to get satisfactory answers to the remainder of the sightings because NASA is limited in its ability to use the full force of its equipment to investigate some places, especially private property.  

The U.S. Government and UFOs 

While the advisory panel is the first official inquiry into unexplained sightings by NASA, the U.S. government has also engaged with the topic of UFOs. In 2020, Congress demanded that the Pentagon address the issue after a number of unexplained sightings appeared in the sky during a short time period. In response, the Pentagon established the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. This task force released a report in June of 2021, which claimed that out of 144 reports of UFOs made by military pilots since 2004, only one was able to be explained–the rest remain a mystery. The Pentagon said it is unlikely that any of these sightings were extraterrestrial in nature, but it couldn’t rule out that possibility. The task force report also suggested other possible sources for the unexplained phenomena. These included technology from other countries; natural atmospheric phenomena, like ice crystallizing on radar equipment; or classified U.S. programs. Recently, the Pentagon has formed the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, or AARO, to continue studying the issue. The Pentagon effort is separate and apart from the NASA task force. 

The Need for More Data 

The most important takeaway from NASA’s public meeting on UAPs is the critical need for more scientifically verifiable research on the subject. Currently, there is no reliable method for documenting sightings. Most of the sightings are captured using cameras, sensors, and other equipment not really meant for this purpose. Many come from eyewitness reports alone. The panel stressed that in order to learn anything about unidentified anomalous phenomenon, they must begin with high-quality, measurable data. The level of stigma surrounding the topic must also be reduced, according to the panel. Scientists need to be free to study the concept openly, without fear of damaging their careers. That’s why NASA decided to host a public panel in the first place. It wanted to improve transparency. Both NASA and the U.S. government have said that they recognize the need to tackle the issue head-on as a matter of national security and public safety. 

What Do You Think? Do you believe that UFOs (or UAPs) are indicators of extraterrestrial activity? Why or why not?