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NASA convened scientists and academics to discuss Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

NASA has convened top scientists and academics to discuss unidentified anomalous phenomena. Don't know what that is? That's because it's the new name the government has given to what we call UFOs. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports on the effort to bring science to the hunt for E.T.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Astronaut and former fighter pilot Scott Kelly remembers his brush with an unidentified flying object. He was piloting an F-14 Tomcat.

SCOTT KELLY: And my RIO thought - the guy that sits in the back of the Tomcat - was convinced we flew by a UFO.

BRUMFIEL: Kelly turned the plane around and made another pass.

KELLY: It turns out it was a balloon.

BRUMFIEL: Kelly is now a member of a NASA panel trying to make sense of sightings of so-called UAPs. A new Pentagon office has received more than 800 reports. Most of those turn out to be aircraft drones, the occasional Chinese spy balloon. But about 2 to 5% remain unidentified, meaning they could be aliens. Probably not. Maybe. Enter NASA.

NICKY FOX: The nature of science is to better understand the unknown, and to do that, our scientists need data.

BRUMFIEL: Nicky Fox is associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. This panel is trying to figure out how to systematically study UAPs. One problem.

FOX: The existing data available from eyewitness reports are often muddled and cannot provide conclusive evidence.

BRUMFIEL: But panelists also believe the public could help. Federica Bianco, an astrophysicist, says that if NASA builds the right tools, like a UAP reporting app, it might improve the data and public engagement.

FEDERICA BIANCO: This could be an opportunity to really increase the reach of science, help people understand the scientific process and maybe diversify the scientific community by attracting new talent.

BRUMFIEL: In other words, studying UAPs could do a lot of good, even if NASA never finds aliens.

Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.

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