The world’s top space agency has decided to join in the hunt for unidentified flying objects (UFOs), “bringing in a more scientific perspective to the discussion,” officials said Thursday.

NASA announced it is commissioning a study team, which will start in early fall, to examine unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) – or as it is more commonly known, UFOs – from a scientific perspective. The study will focus on identifying available data, how best to collect future data, and how NASA can use that data to move the scientific understanding of UAPs forward.

The agency acknowledged that there is currently a limited number of observations of UAPs making it difficult to draw scientific conclusions about the nature of such events.

“Unidentified phenomena in the atmosphere are of interest for both national security and air safety. 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,” NASA wrote.

“Given the paucity of observations, our first task is simply to gather the most robust set of data that we can,” said astrophysicist David Spergel, who will be leading the study team. “We will be identifying what data – from civilians, government, non-profits, companies – exists, what else we should try to collect, and how to best analyze it.”

The study is expected to take about nine months to complete. It will secure the counsel of experts in the scientific, aeronautics, and data analytics communities to focus on how best to collect new data and improve observations of UAPs.

However, NASA is just the latest Federal agency to join in the effort to study and gather data on UAPs.

Last year the U.S. government issued a report, which was compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in conjunction with a Navy-led task force, detailing observations mostly by Navy personnel of UAPs.

That same year the Department of Defense (DoD) stood up the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG) to collaborate with other intelligence agencies across the U.S. government to investigate objects of interest in “Special Use Airspace” and assess and mitigate any associated threats to flight safety and national security.

NASA clarified that it’s not part of the DoD’s AOIMSG. It has, however, coordinated widely across the government regarding how to apply the tools of science to shed light on the nature and origin of UAPs.

“NASA believes that the tools of scientific discovery are powerful and apply here also,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We have access to a broad range of observations of Earth from space – and that is the lifeblood of scientific inquiry. 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.”

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.