Nasa has convened a public meeting to discuss sightings of unexplained phenomena in the sky. The space agency has convened a panel to examine sightings of what it calls UAPs, or unidentified aerial phenomena, which many refer to as UFOs.
Now the group has given its first public discussion, ahead of a report due to be published later this year. The space agency said the work was aimed at making it easier for people to report those UAPs, as well as to examine what exactly they might be.
But representatives said that the panel involved in the work had received sustained abuse that had gotten in the way of that work. “Harassment only leads to further stigmatisation of the UAP field, significantly hindering the scientific progress and discouraging others to study this important subject matter,” said Nicky Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate. Nonetheless, Nasa said that it would be working to examine those reports of UAPs.
“The presence of UAPs raises concerns about the safety of our skies, and it’s this nation’s obligation to determine if these phenomena pose any potential risks to airspace safety,” said Daniel Evans, Nasa’s assistant deputy associate administrator for research. The work is about safety but also the space agency’s “responsibility to be honest and forthright and to follow the science”, he said.
But the data on UAPs have so far been “fragmented”, according to the panel’s chair, David Spergel, with problems of imprecision and having information spread across different agencies. Those issues meant that it was difficult to provide conclusions on every reported UAP event.
He called for better data and joined other panellists in arguing that it should become less stigmatised for people to come forward about their sightings. Numerous panellists said that there was a “stigma” about reporting such phenomena that made it difficult to fully examine what might be going on.
He also gave possible explanations for some of those sightings of UAPs, pointing to the example of sprites, which is something like lightning in reverse and can be shocking to pilots. But he indicated that the group is yet to find an explanation for the various and often different UAPs reported by those who see them.
Many UAPs are examples of “mundane characteristics of readily explainable sources”, said Sean Kirkpatrick, director of the US Department of Defence’s all-domain anomaly resolution office or AARO. He said that only a very small number of UAP reports were truly unusual.
As an example, Dr Kirkpatrick showed a new video of what he said were three dots moving across the sky, at speeds that meant they were impossible for pilots to catch. But it was later established that the dots were just commercial planes and that they were further away than they first appeared.
The 16-member panel includes experts in everything from physics to astrobiology and began its work last June. Wednesday’s session is the first public hearing by the group – which itself represents the first such inquiry into unidentified aerial phenomena by Nasa.