The inaugural public gathering of a NASA panel, on Wednesday, focused on investigating "unidentified aerial phenomena" (UAPs), commonly known as UFOs, commenced. The panel comprises 16 members, including experts in various disciplines such as physics and astrobiology. Established in June of the previous year, its purpose is to analyse unclassified UFO sightings, and evaluate data obtained from civilian government and commercial sectors. According to NASA, the primary objective of Wednesday's four-hour public session at their headquarters in Washington was to conduct "final deliberations" before the team's report is published. However, the meeting was not without its share of revelations.
Both NASA and defense-intelligence officials have stressed that while the existence of intelligent alien life has not been ruled out, they have found no evidence suggesting an extraterrestrial origin for UFO sightings.
"To make the claim that we see something that is evidence of non-human intelligence would require extraordinary evidence, and we have not seen that," NASA panel's chairman, astrophysicist David Spergel, said.
Here are five important revelations from NASA's First Public Meeting On UFOs.
1. Not everything is a UAP
As per the experts, data about UAP can be easily skewed, and this can lead to difficulties in interpretations. David Spergel, chair of Nasa's UAP team, stated the example of a burst of radio waves that was noted by researchers in Australia. While this confused the researchers for a long time, it was later found that the sensitive instruments used by researchers were picking up signals from a microwave that they used to warm their lunches.
Meanwhile, Scott Kelly, a former astronaut and pilot with decades of experience, spoke about how optical illusions were often confused for UFOs. He cited an example of his co-pilot being convinced they spotted a UFO, only for it to be “Bart Simpson - a balloon."
Another example, cited during the hearing, involved a video captured by a naval aircraft flying over the western US that revealed a sequence of dots traversing the night sky. It was later identified as a commercial aircraft en route to a prominent airport and not a UFO.
2. Not all sightings can be explained
As per Sean Kirkpatrick, director of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), part of the US Defence Department, some sightings are bound to remain a mystery and simply cannot be explained. "We have 50 to 100-ish new reports each month," Mr Kirkpatrick said, adding that only 2% to 5% of the total database of sightings are "possibly really anomalous."
3. Privacy concerns will limit investigations
Explaining the limitations in the form of privacy regulations that can stunt their research, Mr Kirkpatrick said, “Most people...don't like it when we point our entire collection apparatus at your backyard,” adding, “A lot of what we have is around the continental United States."
4. Overcoming stigma and harassment for better results
The stigma attached to UFOs acts as a deterrent to people reporting sightings, the experts said, and this hampers scientific study in the long run. "One of our goals is to remove the stigma because there is a need for high-quality data to address important questions about UAPs,” Mr Spergel said.
That's not all. Scientists are also often at the recovering end of harassment and online bullying. "Harassment only leads to further stigmatisation of the UAP field, significantly hindering the scientific process and discouraging others to study this important subject matter," NASA science chief Nicola Fox explained.
5. Embracing transparency: NASA's shift in approach
After decades of actively discrediting UFO sightings, it came as no surprise that the panel was asked, "What is Nasa hiding?" when the floor opened for questions from the public. In response, Dan Evans from NASA emphasised the agency's dedication to transparency, stating – "That is why we are here live on TV today.