NASA's UFO Research Isn't Investigating For Space Aliens
A new study of mysterious aerial events may influence atmospheric sciencemore than astrobiology.
Eric Donovan, a physicist at the University of Calgary, has seen images and data revealing something strange: a curve of purple light swiping across the sky, with linear green patterns burning underneath.
It was unusual, but he didn't overthink it.
I placed everything in a container that I understood
he explains. Let's dive into why NASA's UFO research isn't investigating for space aliens.
After a scientific session, he was in a pub with many amateur aurora photographers.
Members of the Alberta Aurora Chasers were showing off their photos over drinks.
Following a debate, one of the attendees gave him a photograph of the same purple arc Donovan had spotted over the years.
Images of it seem surreal, like something one could see in the sky of another planet.
Donovan noticed the lights were really in an "unidentified" bucket that he didn't comprehend after looking at the photos.
They also lacked a name. So he and the aurora chasers began naming the phenomena Steve, after a name given to shrubbery by a bunch of animals in the children's film Over the Hedge.
Soon after, Donovan and his scientific colleagues joined with the aurora chasers to find other apparitions of Steve—to watch them, try to understand the process underlying them, and turn an unknown into a known.
This is also the goal of a new NASA initiative aimed at researching UFOs.
The story of Steve, in which people detect something weird in the sky above and investigate more, might play out similarly in the space agency's quest to learn more about unexplained objects in Earth's atmosphere.
In early June, in response to a series of widely publicized UFO encounters confirmed by US military personnel, NASA announced the launch of a small investigation into unexplained aerial phenomena (UAPs).
Eight to twelve specialists will work on the UAP Independent Study for over a year, on a meager budget of about $100,000.
Its purpose is to find data—information that has already been obtained or that will be gathered in the future from NASA and other organizations—as well as analytic methods that may increase scientific knowledge of UAPs. NASA and the study's chief scientist, Princeton University astrophysicist and Simons Foundation president David Spergel, refused to comment for this article.
However, no official comments or endorsements are required to confirm the apparent: massive amounts of data from NASA's vast network of past and current Earth-observation satellites might be a gold mine for UAP study.
However, believing this may affect sci-fi-tinged or patrolling extraterrestrial ships would be a mistake.
On the contrary, by attempting to identify unusual, unexplained occurrences in NASA's data, scientists are at least as likely to discover new, exotic-but-earthly atmospheric phenomena as they are to find credible evidence of extraterrestrial visitors—significantly if they can also leverage ground sightings from the general public, as Donovan eventually did with Steve.
In July 2016, the European Space Agency's Swarm satellite detected thermal emission velocity enhancement or STEVE.
People in Queensland, Australia, saw flying fireballs followed by an intriguing green orb of light rolling on the ground in 2006.
Steve became a backronym, or reverse engineered acronym, for that phenomenon. Historian Greg Eghigian can't recall a period when researching UFOs that resulted in substantial changes in the physical sciences.
Instead, he claims that academic curiosity about UFOs has resulted in more practical advances in the social sciences.
NASA will need to hire subject-matter specialists who can blend open-mindedness with rigorous skepticism.
"Scientists need to feel protected," says remote sensing and data visualization specialist Steve Brumby.
According to him,
Such fishing trips have a "very significant risk of simply squandering people's money.
After identifying the event, Donovan and his colleagues sought to track Steve down by seeing him cross data streams from satellites and atmospheric sensors, then tying that occurrence to images captured by ground-based cameras.
The European Space Agency's Swarm satellites detected a significant temperature spike and a fast-moving gas flow near Steve.
Steve evolved into STEVE; a reverse engineered acronym for "strong thermal emission velocity enhancement."
People in Queensland, Australia, saw aerial fireballs followed by a mysterious green orb of light in 2006.
UFO research has not produced promising results in the past. NASA will need to recruit subject-matter specialists effectively.
Experts must establish a balance between being open-minded and being skeptical. "Scientists need to feel protected," says remote-sensing specialist Steve Brumby.
Other scientists may discover phenomena for which they may create backronyms.
Such "fishing trips" have "a fairly high risk of simply squandering people's money," according to Brumby.
NASA's $100,000 research is set to begin this autumn and continue for around nine months.
The Agency has access to a treasure mine of observations acquired by peering up from the Earth and down at it.
NASA may also attempt to solve national security issues. The hunt for alien lifeis significant in and of itself.
So far, the results of these investigations have been discouraging, with most mysterious events remaining unidentified.
Other scientists may have their own "most dramatic" days, similar to Donovan's with STEVE, discovering phenomena for which they, too, may generate backronyms.
In the following years, the most significant findings from NASA's research may be referred to as PAUL or EUGENE instead of UAPs or UFOs.