NASA's New Role in Unraveling Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP)
A weather balloon ascends into the heavens upon its release from the Cape Canaveral weather station in Florida. Image credit: NASA
Sep 14, 2023 - In a groundbreaking move, NASA has officially stepped into the realm of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) research. This announcement comes in response to a comprehensive independent study report that recommended NASA's involvement in understanding these enigmatic occurrences in the skies. The report sheds light on NASA's newfound commitment to exploring and unraveling the mysteries of UAP, utilizing its vast scientific expertise, cutting-edge technology, and a commitment to transparency.
NASA's Commitment to UAP Research
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson expressed gratitude to the Independent Study Team for their insights into how NASA can better contribute to the study and analysis of UAP. He emphasized NASA's commitment to conducting this research transparently for the benefit of humanity. To spearhead these efforts, NASA will appoint a Director of UAP Research, who will be responsible for developing and implementing a scientific vision for UAP research.
The Independent Study Report
The report produced by the independent study team serves as a crucial guide for NASA. It outlines the team's findings and recommendations, focusing on potential data collection methods and how NASA can illuminate the origins and nature of UAP. Importantly, it is not a review or assessment of previous UAP incidents but serves as a blueprint for future endeavors.
Centralizing UAP Research
Previously, NASA had a liaison to the Department of Defense for limited UAP activities. The appointment of a Director of UAP Research will centralize communication, resources, and data analytics. This move will establish a robust database for evaluating future UAP incidents. NASA will leverage its expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and space-based observation tools to enhance the broader government initiative on UAP.
Open Source and Collaborative Approach
One of the key recommendations from the independent study team is for NASA to leverage its open-source resources, technological expertise, data analysis techniques, and federal and commercial partnerships. This collaborative approach aims to curate a comprehensive dataset for understanding future UAP. It reflects NASA's commitment to data-driven scientific exploration.
Engaging with the Public
NASA is taking a proactive step to engage with the public and commercial pilots to enhance the UAP dataset. This engagement will not only help identify future UAP incidents but also destigmatize the study of these phenomena. By involving a broader spectrum of observers, NASA aims to gather more reliable and diverse data.
A Step Towards Scientific Understanding
Incorporating the expertise of a counsel of 16 community experts, NASA's decision to dive into UAP research signifies a significant shift in our approach to the unexplained. NASA's commitment to using unclassified data, transparency, openness, and scientific integrity is evident in its collaboration with the independent study team. This approach ensures that future UAP study will be rooted in factual, evidence-based science.
NASA's decision to appoint a Director of UAP Research and actively engage in the study of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena marks a momentous step forward in our quest for scientific understanding. By leveraging its vast resources and expertise, NASA aims to shed light on the enigmatic events occurring in our skies. As the agency moves forward, it brings us closer to unraveling the mysteries of UAP and advancing scientific exploration for the benefit of all.
Highlights of this Report
NASA is in an excellent position to contribute to the study of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) within the broader whole-of-government framework led by the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO).
NASA's fleet of Earth-observing satellites can be used to directly probe the state of the local earth, oceanic, and atmospheric conditions that are spatially and temporally coincident with UAPs initially detected via other methods.
The panel finds that commercial remote-sensing satellites offer imagery at sub- to several-meter spatial resolution, which is well-matched to the typical spatial scales of known UAP.
The analysis of UAP data is hampered by poor sensor calibration, the lack of multiple measurements, the lack of sensor metadata, and the lack of baseline data. NASA should contribute to a comprehensive, government-wide approach to collecting future data.
The panel finds that artificial intelligence and machine learning are essential tools for identifying rare occurrences, potentially including UAP, within vast datasets. NASA is well-positioned to contribute to UAP studies within the broader whole-of-government framework.
The panel sees several advantages to crowdsourcing data collection, including open-source smartphone-based apps that simultaneously gather imaging data and other smartphone sensor metadata from multiple citizen observers worldwide.
The negative perception surrounding UAP reporting poses an obstacle to collecting data. NASA's involvement in UAP will play a vital role in reducing stigma associated with UAP reporting.
The panel finds that the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), which NASA administers for the FAA, could be better harnessed for UAP collection, and that advanced, real-time analysis techniques could be applied to future generations of air traffic management systems.
This report is organized as follows: a systematic response to the eight charge elements that formed the Terms of Reference, followed by a detailed set of conclusions and recommendations.
NASA established an external independent study team in June 2022 to find a way to use its open-source data and resources to help shed light on future UAP. The team is composed of esteemed scientific experts and provides the agency with external counsel and increased network of perspectives.
NASA's UAP Independent Study Team is made up of 16 experts from diverse backgrounds in science, technology, data, artificial intelligence, space exploration, aerospace safety, media and commercial innovation. The team produced a report that outlines a roadmap for how NASA can use its tools of science to obtain usable data on UAP going forward.
NASA set up an independent study team to gain external perspectives on how to use UAP data to advance the study of space exploration.
Many credible witnesses have reported seeing objects over U.S. airspace that cannot be immediately identified as known human-made or natural phenomena.
NASA explores the unknown using the scientific method, which involves scrutinizing assumptions and intuition, collecting data, reproducing results, seeking independent evaluation, and finally reaching a scientific consensus.
The majority of UAP observations can be attributed to known phenomena or occurences, but the data needed to explain these anomalous sightings often do not exist. A rigorous, evidence-based, data-driven scientific framework is essential to understand UAP.
NASA has a variety of Earth- and space-observing assets, together with an extensive archive of historic and current data sets, which should be used to address the challenges of detecting and/or understanding UAP.
There are other promising civilian capabilities that can be employed to scrutinize UAP, such as the NEXRAD Doppler radar network and large-sky surveys enabled by ground-based telescopes. NASA also has substantial experience in Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), which can provide much higher angular resolution images of Earth.
Irrespective of the source of the observation, structured data curation plays a pivotal role in better understanding UAP.
NASA's world-leading expertise in curation, archiving, and distribution of large volumes of data, combined with its adherence to FAIR data principles, can help scientists and citizen scientists conduct data-mining and meaningful analysis.
The U.S. commercial remote-sensing industry offers a potent mix of Earth-observing sensors that can be used to directly resolve UAP events. These sensors can be rapidly deployed to areas of known UAP activity and may help establish "pattern-of-activity" trends and potentially the physical characteristics of UAP themselves.
A commercial aircraft was assessed as the likely cause of the wake in the video taken by an MQ-9.
The U.S. commercial remote-sensing industry offers a potent mix of Earth-observing sensors that have the collective potential to directly resolve UAP events. NASA should contribute to a comprehensive approach to collecting data within the broader whole-of-government framework to understand UAP.
Theories that predict novel signatures help guide our searches for UAP. Future sensors should adjust on millisecond timescales to aid better detection.
The panel notes that current UAP studies are hampered by sensor calibration challenges and a lack of sensor metadata. Proper calibration is vital to ensure that future data gathered are reliable and accurate, and that the context and environmental factors of a recorded UAP event are well understood.
NASA's expertise should be comprehensively leveraged to improve the quality of UAP events and eliminate false positives due to sensor artifacts.
The panel sees several advantages to using modern crowdsourcing techniques to augment potential data collection efforts, including open-source smartphone-based apps.
NASA's fleet of Earth-observing satellites must also play a key role in collecting future data on environmental conditions coinciding with UAP sightings. NASA should also leverage sensors that expand its observational reach, such as penetrating deeper into the ocean or at the air/sea interfaces.
NASA's involvement in gathering future data will play an important role in reducing stigma associated with UAP reporting, and NASA's scientific processes encourage critical thinking.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can be used to identify rare occurrences within vast datasets, and NASA's extensive experience and expertise should be utilized to investigate the nature and origins of UAP by examining data from sources such as satellites and radar systems.
When detecting anomalies in datasets, we can use two approaches: a model of the expected signal characteristics and a model of the background properties. The first approach is difficult to use because of the lack of consistent description of UAP.
AI and machine learning, combined with NASA's extensive expertise, should be utilized to investigate the nature and origins of UAP. A program of systematically calibrating observations of "normal" is essential before starting to search for the abnormal.
The panel regards NASA's expertise in AI and ML as a promising method for future analysis of UAP events.
To enable scientific analysis of UAP, the data must be collected using calibrated instruments tailored to their respective use cases accompanied by metadata to facilitate calibration and contextual comprehension. NASA is well-positioned to take a central role in these efforts.
Observations of UAP to date have been inconsistent, and it is difficult to put physical constraints on them at present. The strongest physical constraints are on the conventional events, and determining distances is key to understanding and correlating any claimed anomalous high-velocity and high-acceleration events.
Government agencies, including the FAA, gather civilian airspace data that can be analyzed to probe for UAP, but the data is not always optimized or suitable for rigorous scientific analysis of UAP. Further, there is no standardized Federal system for making civilian UAP reports.
If the whole-of-government framework to understanding UAP implements the preponderance of steps prescribed above, placing physical constraints on UAP, together with the suite of plausible natures and origins, is within reach.
The panel believes that a more robust and systematic framework for reporting UAP is essential, particularly for civilian reporting. This framework should include a system for collecting eyewitness reports and systematically gathering data.
NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) provides a unique data source for emerging UAS safety issues, and it is funded by the FAA and not part of NASA's Aeronautics activity. NASA should provide technical assistance to FAA to leverage this system for commercial pilot UAP reporting.
A South Asian object was captured by an MQ-9 with an apparent atmospheric wake or cavitation, later assessed as a likely commercial aircraft.
NASA's deep experience in researching and developing air traffic management tools, together with its strong partnership with the FAA, will be pivotal to designing future ATM systems that can acquire UAP data. NASA should begin by developing new concepts and ideas for ATM systems that can assist in the effort to better understand UAP.
We recommend that NASA play a prominent role in the whole-of-government effort to understand UAP by leveraging its extensive expertise and exploring enhancing collaborations with the U.S. commercial remote-sensing industry.
The panel recommends that NASA leverage its expertise in multispectral and hyperspectral data to potentially use in a comprehensive UAP detection campaign, and that sophisticated data analysis techniques be used in conjunction with systematic data gathering and robust curation.
The panel recommends that NASA explore the viability of developing a crowdsourcing system to gather public UAP reports.
The Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) should be better leveraged for UAP reporting and advanced analysis techniques should be applied to future ATM systems.
NASA should leverage its core capabilities and expertise to determine whether it should take a leading or supporting role in implementing a given recommendation.
This report is the result of the collective efforts of a dedicated team of professionals, with special thanks to NASA, Sen. Bill Nelson, Dr. Daniel Evans, Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Dr. Nicky Fox, and Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen.
Katherine Rohloff, NASA's UAP Press Secretary, and Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick, the Director of AARO, have been essential pillars in our communication strategy. The staff of NASA Research and Education Support Services have been the unsung heroes behind the scenes, ensuring that every logistical detail was meticulously addressed.
The panel's recommendations and conclusions stemmed from a series of sub-panel reports. The reports are included for full public transparency.
NASA announced a study of unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP) in June 2022, with a focus on identifying how the Agency could address the question scientifically. This report outlines several approaches NASA could take to address the question of UAP.
NASA's mission is to explore the unknown by collecting data, reproducing results, seeking independent evaluation, and finally reaching a scientific consensus.
Thomas Jefferson wrote that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Today, scientists know of thousands of pulsars, which are rapidly rotating neutron stars that can be used to probe everything from nuclear physics to gravitational waves produced by colliding supermassive black holes.
Science has solved mysteries that originated much closer to home, including the mechanisms behind bioluminescence and glittering atmospheric "sprites" - beautiful orange-red flashes of light that were reported for more than a hundred years but only scientifically explained recently.
Science is a process that reveals reality, no matter how unsatisfying or confusing that reality might be. Extraterrestrial life is the hypothesis of last resort, after ruling out all other possibilities.
There is no conclusive evidence suggesting an extraterrestrial origin for UAP, and eyewitness reports often lack the information needed to make any definitive conclusions.
This report offers a vision of how NASA can contribute to understanding anomalies and complement efforts by other federal entities.
NASA is a science-driven agency committed to exploring and understanding air and space, and it has a long history of using space-based assets to study Earth's aquatic, atmospheric, cryospheric, and terrestrial systems. Its missions, data, and technical expertise could help to investigate reported UAP.
NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites collect information about Earth's land, ocean, atmosphere, and other components. New Earth-observing missions such as NISAR will provide valuable radar data that could help to examine UAP directly.
NASA's Earth science mission includes studying trends within and across components of Earth's systems, and identifying natural and anthropogenic variability in the Earth system. The NASA/AARO liaison will be an important step towards enabling interagency cooperation.
NASA supports research programs in Earth science and astrobiology, which investigate the possibility that life exists elsewhere in the universe.
Researchers are increasingly interested in identifying unusual, transient events, such as fast radio bursts, and are combining information from multiple observatories that operate at different electromagnetic wavelengths.
NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination program uses observatories with extensive sky coverage and dense time coverage to spot near-Earth objects with large proper motions and phenomena with anomalous time evolution.
NASA is uniquely capable of leveraging public and private partnerships to study UAP, including working with commercial partners in Earth-observing satellite data. NASA has a strong record of international collaboration, which could be beneficial to the study of UAP.
Scientists and aviators consider the study of UAP to be "fringe" at best, but the DoD began encouraging military aviators to disclose anomalies they encountered, which resulted in a significant increase in UAP reports. The increased reporting rate is partially due to reduced stigma surrounding UAP reporting.
In testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Committee, the Acting FAA Administrator indicated that the protocols and reporting of balloons may be spotty.
NASA can play an important role in destigmatizing UAP reporting because of its long-standing public trust, scientific processes, and positive brand image. NASA's involvement in public life is an example of professionalism and leadership in technological advancement.
NASA's public announcement of its UAP Independent Study Team membership was met with interest and spurred both positive and negative feedback. Some scientists reported receiving negative (hate) mail from colleagues, while others were ridiculed and criticized on social media.
NASA can help researchers explore data within the civilian aerospace domain by starting that work within the Agency itself, by convening conferences, and by offering grand challenges.
Many agencies, including NASA, collect data and observations that could be relevant for understanding UAP. The partnership between NASA and AARO already provides a foundation for a collaborative examination of UAP events, and other agencies should be engaged as appropriate and as needed.
The circled numbers in the image provide information needed to estimate the object's altitude and velocity. The aircraft's groundspeed is about 435 mph, so the impression of rapid motion is at least partly due to the high velocity of the sensor, coupled with the parallax effect.
The object moved about 390 meters during a 22-second interval, which corresponds to an average speed of 40 mph. It is not moving at an extraordinary velocity, and it appears bright against a dark ocean for these display settings.
The GoFast video is a well-known UAP event, recorded by navy aviators from the USS Theodore Roosevelt. It shows an object skimming above the ocean at a great velocity.
U.S. Federal agencies can support the effort to understand UAP, including the DoD, Department of State, FAA, DoC, and NOAA.
We followed the FAIR data principle when reviewing the current status of data on UAP, and our analysis led to the findings and recommendations in this report.
UAP data are rarely collected in a concerted effort to understand the phenomenon; they are usually made using coincidental observations. Additionally, much of the data collected by military sensors or intelligence satellites are classified, which enhances the sense of mystery and conspiracy surrounding UAP.
NASA observations are made using well-calibrated instruments that have been designed for their specific use cases, and this is how NASA can scientifically approach the study of Earth- and space-based phenomena.
In science, data need to be reproducible, and hypotheses falsifiable. In the case of UAP, we seek to reject the hypothesis that they have natural or technological causes.
Eye-witness reports should be considered along with corroborating sensor data in the study of UAP, as reports may reveal patterns, but without calibrated sensor data to accompany it, no report can provide conclusive evidence on the nature of UAP.
Researchers should be able to study the instrumental characteristics of the equipment that can potentially capture UAP data, such as the error rates of the sensors, and noise sources intrinsic to the sensors themselves.
NASA is considering using modern crowd-sourcing techniques to augment potential data collection efforts, including open-source smartphone-based apps, to provide a complete picture of a UAP event. This data would be collated and used to triangulate an object's location and estimate its velocity and size.
Once an anomalous signal is identified, follow-up observations may be needed to characterize it in full. This requires high levels of automation and robotization, and should only be considered after careful planning of the discovery data.
There is no standardized Federal system for making civilian UAP reports, and the DoD is establishing a systematic mechanism for military UAP reports. Integrating NASA's open, civilian dataset with DoD's more focused, restricted information would take some effort.
Commercial remote sensing systems could provide high-quality data on UAP events, but integrating anomalous events across platforms is an expensive exercise.
Integration and curation of data is an important part of the scientific approach to studying UAP. Organized data repositories are needed to facilitate automation in retrieving UAP data.
NASA's extensive experience in data calibration, cleaning, curation, management, and distribution could be leveraged to set up curated data repositories for the study of UAP.
Several platforms built for analyzing scientific data have led to historical scientific discoveries, such as the discovery of Boyajian's Star.
A strategy that encourages citizen analysis of UAP data would improve robustness by adding an additional layer of verification. For example, two independent teams found evidence for the accelerating cosmos using data that had been collected and analyzed independently.
When searching for UAP in data, scientists often have to separate and extract it from a complex background of signals produced by unrelated phenomena. Sparsely occupied airspaces may offer a low background environment for UAP searches, but UAP are poorly understood and their presence may be location-dependent.
Another background-limiting strategy would be to examine astronomical plates for satellites prior to 1959, when Sputnik, the first artificial satellite of Earth, launched.
If the background cannot be minimized, it must be characterized in detail and completely, using accurately calibrated instruments.
Observers may report some conventional objects in the sky as anomalies. NASA data are already public and offered to the world in well-curated repositories accessible programmatically, and the Agency's portfolio is set up to enable cross-referencing with NASA data.
There are two approaches to detecting anomalies in large datasets: one involves having a detailed model of the properties of needles and looking for anything that looks like a needle, and the other involves having an accurate model of the properties of hay and looking for anything that looks different from hay.
Machine learning can be used to detect rare events such as the Higgs Boson, rare cancer types, and intrusions in cyber infrastructure.
This question should be asked after the questions pertaining to UAP observing platforms and curated repositories for UAP data.
Once the nature of the data is established, selecting algorithms for their analysis can be completed. However, it is likely that methodologies for studying UAP already exist or can be adapted from analytical methods developed in other fields.
The search for signs of life beyond Earth's atmosphere is a compelling scientific quest. NASA-supported scientific communities have relevant experience in determining whether observations that might at first appear extraordinary actually justify making extraordinary claims.
NASA's science missions include searches for biosignatures on Mars, the icy moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn, and farther afield, in the ratios of molecules present in exoplanet atmospheres. The agency also funds surveys for the waste heat generated by Dyson spheres in existing infrared data.
Solar system exploration offers multiple possibilities for technosignature searches at modest additional costs, including searching for high velocity objects moving through our solar system or looking for objects with unusual light curves, acceleration, spectral signatures, or other relevant anomalies.
Currently planned or existing NASA missions could search for extraterrestrial techno- signatures in planetary atmospheres, on planetary surfaces, or in near-Earth space.
There is no reason to conclude that existing UAP reports have an extraterrestrial source, but if we acknowledge that as one possibility, then those objects must have traveled through our solar system to get here.