Many UFO sightings may never be fully explained, the chair of a Nasa body looking into the phenomenon has warned ahead of a report expected in the coming weeks.
David Spergel, who chairs the US space agency’s team looking into unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAPs) said current data collection efforts were “unsystematic and fragmented across various agencies, often using instruments uncalibrated for scientific data collection”.
UAPs are defined as observations “that cannot be identified as aircraft or known natural phenomena”.
He said that “many of these events are commercial aircraft, civilian and military drones, weather and research balloons, (or) ionospheric phenomenon” but that current data was “insufficient to provide conclusive evidence about the nature and origin” of all UAP events.
Even with better data collection “there’s no guarantee that all sightings will be explained”, he said.
Sean Kirkpatrick, the director of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office set up by the US Defence Department last summer, said that “the vast majority” of UAP reports related to round spheres or “orbs” that were one to two metres in size, were white, silver or metallic, and capable of speeds of up to Mach 2 or 1,522mph.
“This is the thing we see most of. We see these all over the world, and we see these making very interesting apparent manoeuvres,” he said.
A public meeting on Wednesday was played footage of a sphere moving across the sky at a site in the Middle East in 2022, though Mr Kirkpatrick said it was “no threat to airbourne safety”.
He added: “We are still looking at it, but I don’t have any more data other than that, so being able to come to some conclusion is going to take some time until we can get better data on similar objects.”
A camera sensor error had been ruled out in the case, he said, adding that the object was “real”.
He also played a clip from a naval aircraft of another reported UAP – later discovered to be lights from commercial aircraft going to a major airport.
There are hotspots for UAP reporting on the east and west coast of the US, over the Middle East, and in the Pacific, though these are the areas most heavily monitored by US officials.
Around 50 to 100 UAP sightings are recorded each month, officials said – but only 2 to 5 per cent of them are thought to be “possibly anomalous” rather than caused by humans or natural phenomena.
The first public meeting of Nasa’s 16-member body looking into UFOs, which assembles experts from fields ranging from physics to astrobiology, also saw warnings that a surge in abuse from conspiracy theorists and others could discourage research in the field or increase stigma.
Nasa associate administrator Nicola Fox said: “It is really disheartening to hear of the harassment our panellists have faced online, all because they’re studying this topic. Harassment only leads to further stigmatisation of the UAP field, hindering the scientific process and discouraging others from studying this subject matter.”
Mr Spergel also warned that stigma around UFO sightings leads to many events going unreported, adding that commercial pilots are very reluctant to report anomalies because of “a stigma among people reporting UAP sightings.”
He added: “One of our goals is to remove the stigma, because there is a need for high-quality data to address important questions about UAPs.”
Nasa has vowed to apply “rigorous scientific scrutiny” to UAP reports, Dan Evans from Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate said.
“We do not come in with an agenda, we come in needing a roadmap,” he said, adding that public meetings would be the “first step towards reducing the stigma around UAP reporting”.