One of the two

Why did Nasa commission the study?

Last year, Nasa selected 16 individuals—scientists, data and artificial intelligence experts, and aerospace safety experts—to study unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAPs). These sightings—of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) to you and me—are those that can’t be immediately classed as human-made or natural phenomena. With many credible witnesses, often military aviators, having reported seeing such objects, Nasa hopes the findings will help it separate UAPs from surveillance operations by foreign powers, thus ensuring the safety of planes over US skies, especially in restricted areas.

What does the report reveal?

Nasa, which is still “evaluating” the report, believes there’s “no conclusive evidence suggesting an extraterrestrial origin for UAP”. It says sightings could be unmanned aircraft, balloons, birds, weather events or airborne debris. The US department of defence says such sightings are influenced by factors such as the weather, light, atmospheric effects, inaccurate interpretation of data or even the observer’s hazy recollections. Nasa qualifies, though, that it does not have all the data needed to explain these anomalous sightings. It needs to be noted that the authors only studied unclassified information for the report.

Why are they called UAPs and not UFOs?

Typically, there’s a stigma attached to reporting UFOs because of the frivolity, obsession and incredulity attached to the term. But such sightings, if true, could have a bearing on aircraft safety. Hence, US authorities coined UAP as the new acronym. A stood for ‘aerial’ in the original acronym. But the Pentagon switched it for ‘anomalous’ in December 2022.

Why this frenzy over UAPs or UFOs?

Is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? With some 800 sightings to date, this question drives the quest for evidence. David Grusch, a former Pentagon intelligence officer, said in July that the US possesses several spacecraft of unknown origin, and bodies of pilots of an “unknown species”. Two months later, ufologist Jaime Maussan showed Mexico’s Congress two corpses claiming they were of aliens, but scientists dismissed these as either ancient Peruvian mummies or manipulated objects.

What is Nasa recommending?

Nasa has named a director of UAP research, Mark McInerney, who will analyse data. It also plans to use smartphone apps to gather imaging data from anyone who claims to see such objects. Nasa will also leverage the NEXRAD Doppler radar network to help separate interesting objects from clutter. Nasa sees particular promise in earth-observing satellites, mentioning the “excellent resolution” from NISAR—its satellite partnership with Isro—in potentially examining “UAP directly”.