Science is always amazing.

At its heart, science is about investigating and learning from what can observe and measure but not yet fully understand.

In recent years numerous visual observations and electronic recordings have been made of events and phenomena in the Earth’s atmosphere that we cannot fully explain despite our best efforts.  NASA has recently established a formal program to collect the evidence around these “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” or UAP. 

This topic has been in the news lately and we thought it might be worth spending a bit of time examining what is being studied and what is not.

First of all, NASA states clearly that there is simply not enough data about UAP observations to determine what they are. Could further study based on additional data produce a simple and easily to understand explanation of these events based on current scientific knowledge?  Quite possibly. However, this has not been something we can do at the moment.  The program emphasises that we do not have a complete and total understanding of the natural world and there is still much we have to learn.

What NASA will examine are reports and observations that publicly available. Reports from members of the public, businesses or non-classified sources will be welcome. They will not be looking at classified reports of any kind. These studies are separate to the efforts mandated by the US Congress.

The full report will be released to the public sometime in 2023. NASA will hold full public meetings and these meetings will be broadcast as well. Apart from trying to understand the nature of UAPs, the safety of aircraft and spacecraft which travel through the atmosphere and encounter unknown and unpredictable phenomena like UAPs could pose a risk.

Ok- to get the big question out of the way.

No, the NASA study is not working on the basis that UAP are alien technology. There are not enough UAP reports and not enough we know about them to draw that conclusion.  As already mentioned, we simply don’t know what UAP are.

The UAPs investigated so far have not shown any signs or “signatures” associated with biological or technology.

NASA *is* heavily involved in the search for life elsewhere in the Solar System.

Completely separate and independent to their UAP program, NASA has numerous long-term studies underway to look for signs of life both within the Solar System and further out into deep space.  The study of life beyond Earth is called astrobiology. Life elsewhere in the Solar System especially is a tantalising possibility. The search for the right conditions for life and even life itself are areas of intense study and research in the global space and astronomical communities.

(There is currently no firm evidence for the existence of life outside Earth, nor is there any that UAPs are extraterrestrial. There is also zero proof that there is no other life beyond Earth either in the Solar System or further out into space.)

The growth in astrobiology has been no doubt spurred on by the discovery of vast numbers of exoplanet, planets orbiting other stars.  When BINTEL started selling telescopes in in the 1980s, even professional astronomers using the largest telescopes had not discovered any planets besides the ones in the Solar System.  As far as we knew, the Earth, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and the rest of our Sun’s planets were unique.

Now there’s well over 5,000 known exoplanets orbiting other stars with more being constantly discovered. It’s now thought most stars have at least one planet orbiting them. Estimates of the number of planets in the Milky Way put the figure between 100 and 400 billion – but this is an educated guess BINTEL now even sells telescopes that can join programs to observe the effects exoplanets have on their host stars.

Here’s just two examples of NASA’s astrobiology programs –

Once of the prime mission objectives of the MARS Perseverance Rover is to look for signs of past ancient on Mars and investigate conditions for life on the red planet.

Illustration of NASA’s Perseverance Rover on the Martian surface. 

Due to launch in just under two years is the Europa Clipper mission. This multi-year program that will orbit Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and study the three main requirements for life – liquid water, the right chemistry and energy. Earlier observations including those from the previous Galileo spacecraft strongly  suggest Europa does indeed have these requirements. Outside of Mars, Europa is probably the best place in the Solar System to look for microbial life. (Saturn’s moon Titan is another candidate for serious study.)

NASA Illustration of the Europa Clipper orbiter arriving at Jupiter.

You can read more about NASA’s search for life and habitable worlds here

Why don’t astronomers see more UAPs? After all, they are constantly looking at the night sky.

Good question! As mentioned, unexplainable UAP reports are rare. Many have also been reported during the day. There have been many reports from commercial aircraft crews.

What’s this all mean?

It’s clear from what has been seen and recorded that there are events and processes occurring in the atmosphere on a rare basis that we have no explanation for. In some ways, this topic that was not treated seriously in the past by some members of the public or scientific community.  As much as we would like to dismiss UAPs as some strange form of lightning, uncommon weather pattern, mylar balloon or aircraft, we simply can’t do so at the moment. There are large enough number of highly credible reports and recordings to make further study worth perusing.

NASA and other scientific organisations are now investigating UAPs. Their nine-month study is unlikely to announce any real ground shaking discoveries, but that’s not the point. NASA’s study will be a great example of how science approaches and investigates areas where we haven’t even got some of the answers. Plus it will focus attention on the amazing search underway for life on other planets.

Scientists can’t draw a firm conclusion about what’s causing these events – however when this is discovered it’s likely to be an exciting advance in our knowledge of the world around us.


Earl White


For further reading:

NASA UAP Science Mission Directorate

NASA UAP Frequently Asked Questions

NASA Announces Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Study Team Members




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