NASA wants to believe ... that you can help it crack UFO mysteries
Is there nothing crowdsourcing and open source phone apps can't solve?
NASA on Thursday released its final report on how to best study Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) and the US space agency wants to hear more from the hoi polloi, or common folk.
The report endorses "crowdsourcing" as a way to gather more data about puzzling sightings.
"Engaging the public is also a critical aspect of understanding UAP," the report [PDF] stated. "The panel sees several advantages to augmenting data collection efforts using modern crowdsourcing techniques, including open-source smartphone-based apps that simultaneously gather imaging data and other smartphone sensor metadata from multiple citizen observers worldwide."
In fact, there's already an app for that – from Enigma Labs. And more can be expected.
UAP refers to what were once called Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) and also encompasses things that cannot be identified as aircraft or as known natural phenomena.
When the expert panel held its first public hearing in June, it found very few anomalies were truly without explanation – between 2 percent and 5 percent of 800 events over 27 years. Nonetheless, recent alarm over Chinese spy balloons has ensured that airborne objects are now subject to greater scrutiny.
The NASA report comes from a panel of 16 experts – "some of the world's leading scientists, data and artificial intelligence practitioners, [and] aerospace safety experts," NASA said when the group was announced last October. And this pedigreed group isn't entirely ready to leave skywatching to amateurs, enthusiasts, cranks, and trolls.
The report observes that there's no coherent data gathering regime or standard for incident reporting or sensor calibration. Thus NASA sees a role for itself interpreting and validating data derived from its sky surveillance mob. "NASA’s expertise should be comprehensively leveraged as part of a robust and systematic data strategy within the whole-of-government framework," the report says.
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The report argues that NASA, by committing publicly to UAP research, "is already helping to reduce stigma associated with reporting." That's not to say, however, that claims of abduction by extraterrestrials will no longer elicit a bit of skepticism.
The report also argues that NASA should look for ways to collaborate with the remote sensing industry – private firms operating satellites, aviation gear, and geo-sensors. For example, the report recommends coordinating with the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), through which commercial pilots can report UAP sightings.
And further acknowledging the limits of crowdsourcing, the report suggests NASA's expertise in machine learning and data science will help ensure quality data gathering and analysis.
In fact, there will be a job opening up at NASA to oversee UAP data collection. The space agency plans to appoint a Director of UAP Research
"This individual will also ensure that the agency’s vast analytical capabilities, including its proficiency in data management, machine learning and artificial intelligence, are contributed to the government’s unified UAP effort," said Dr. Nicola Fox, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in the report.
"At NASA, it's in our DNA to explore – and to ask why things are the way they are," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. "I want to thank the Independent Study Team for providing insight on how NASA can better study and analyze UAP in the future."
Nelson said NASA "will do this work transparently for the benefit of humanity."
It may also have some benefit for national defense: NASA's insights are expected to contribute to the US government's "unified UAP effort" to identify and assess suspect sky stuff, the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), which was announced last year and got its own website last month.
Someone's got to identify which balloons to shoot down. ®