NASA sets up study team to look at Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

An illustration of UFOs
However, the agency says there is "no evidence" UAPs are extraterrestrial. Photo credit: Getty Images

NASA is assembling a team to study the science behind UFOs, or unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), as they are now known.

The agency defines UAPs as "observations of events in the sky that cannot be identified as aircraft or known natural phenomena".

The study will focus on examining existing data, collecting further data and determining how the agency can use it to further its scientific understanding of the phenomena.

According to the agency, the small number of UAPs makes it difficult to draw conclusions about their nature.

"Unidentified phenomena in the atmosphere are of interest for both national security and air safety," it said in a news release.

"Establishing which events are natural provides a key first step to identifying or mitigating such phenomena, which aligns with one of NASA's goals to ensure the safety of aircraft."

However, the agency was quick to pour cold water on the idea of UAPs being visiting aliens, saying there was "no evidence" they were extraterrestrial in origin.

"We have access to a broad range of observations of Earth from space – and that is the lifeblood of scientific inquiry," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, said.

"We have the tools and team who can help us improve our understanding of the unknown. That's the very definition of what science is. That's what we do."

Astrophysicist David Spergel will lead the independent team and says the first task will be to gather "robust" data.

"We will be identifying what data - from civilians, government, non-profits, companies - exists, what else we should try to collect, and how to best analyse it," he said.

NASA expects the study to take about nine months, and will make the final report available to the public.

Daniel Evans, the assistant deputy associate administrator for research at NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said that was "consistent with NASA's principles".

"All of NASA's data is available to the public - we take that obligation seriously - and we make it easily accessible for anyone to see or study."

NASA already has multiple programs looking at the prospect of life beyond Earth, including searching for water on Mars and the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope looking for biosignatures around other planets.