NASA says UFOs are probably balloons, planes, or solar glints — but not aliens

  • NASA said it can't explain what UAP are, but it doesn't think they're from off the planet.

  • NASA says the sightings can be explained by earthly phenomena like planes, balloons, and weather.

  • The announcement comes from a year-long investigation into how NASA can better study UFOs.

Yes, unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP) are real and a threat to national security, but they're not from out of this world, NASA announced during a press briefing Thursday.

Last year, the agency assembled an independent panel of experts to assess how it can best identify and collect data on UAP, commonly known as UFOs.

That panel compiled its findings into a report, which NASA released on Thursday.

The report includes suggestions for new ways to study UAP and states that there's no evidence for alien visitors to Earth.

Normal explanations for the paranormal

Flying spacecraft and little green men have long captured public imagination.

Since the Pentagon released footage in recent years showing crafts performing maneuvers seemingly impossible for any known human technology, there's been even more attention on the phenomenon.

But such sights can usually be explained by planes, balloons, drones, weather phenomena, and instrument features, said David Spergel, the chair of the UAP Independent Study Team.

For example, a Chinese spy balloon that was spotted flying over the US earlier this year was mistaken for a UFO early on, the Atlantic reported.

A photograph of a weather balloon hovering over a distant shoreline.
Weather balloons could be mistaken for a UAP, NASA said.Senez Sudio/Getty Images

That doesn't mean alien life doesn't exist. It just hasn't been here on Earth, as far as we know.

"If you ask me: Do I believe there's life in a universe that is so vast that it's hard for me to comprehend how big it is? My personal answer is yes," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in the briefing.

For such alien life to visit Earth, though, "it would have to be a very advanced civilization," Nelson added. "The distance is light years, hundreds of light years, billions of light years."

NASA's new mission to get good data on UAP

The new report gives NASA a roadmap for using data and scientific analysis to investigate what exactly might be causing UAP.

The study team recommended using AI and machine learning to analyze data collected by NASA's instruments, like the James Webb Space Telescope.

Nicola Fox, the head of the science directorate at NASA, said in the briefing that they can use AI to find patterns in complicated data more quickly than humans.

NASA has even created a new position just to lead those efforts: Director of UAP Research. Officials said Thursday that somebody has been appointed to that role, but declined to name the person, citing concerns about harassment.

Their goal is still to figure out what causes the phenomenon. Spergel said that in any investigation into new phenomena, "the first step is to eliminate the chaff of conventional events before moving on to identify novel phenomenon."

A UFO variety was photographed when it hovered for fifteen minutes near Holloman Air Development Center in New Mexico. The object was photographed by a government employee and was released by the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization after careful study. There is no conventional explanation for the object.
The transition from using UFO to UAP was to better encompass a variety of phenomena and strange sightings.Bettmann/Getty Images

To do this, they explain in the report that they want to get the public involved in reporting their experiences.

Spergel said their efforts might include starting a smartphone app to help the public quickly report UAP sightings without stigma.

All of the speakers emphasized that in order to figure out what UAP are, NASA needs to collect more data and do so with a specific scientific plan.

If that science-based process turns up evidence that UAP are indeed aliens, then "you bet your boots we will say that," Nelson said.

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