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NASA brings standards of evidence to the search for UFOs

July 25, 2022
Very Large Array observatory among the tools used by astronomers to search for UFOs, UAPs, and other signs of extraterrestrial life.The Very Large Array radio telescope system in New Mexico. (Donald Giannatti / Unsplash)

UFOs and UAPs have long interested science fiction fans, screen writers, conspiracy theorists, and, yes, scientists. But now there’s a new player in town, and it’s a game changer—NASA.

What are UFOs? UFO stands for unidentified flying objects. They are sometimes also referred to as unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAP. Some people believe that sightings of UFOs and UAPs are evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. In a Newsweek op-ed, Adam Frank, the Helen F. and Fred H. Gowen Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Rochester, disagrees:

To date, there is simply no data—no evidence—strong enough to link them [UFOs] to alien life. Fuzzy videos and personal narratives, as engaging as they may be, are simply not enough to support such an extraordinary claim.

Now though, America’s space agency has announced it is convening a commission to investigate UAPs. “If it’s handled well, the commission could do more than shed much-needed light on UAPs,” writes Frank. “It could also give Americans a masterclass in the most basic, most important, and unfortunately, most boring topic in science: standards of evidence.”

As Frank explains, scientists have the technology to detect biosignatures, which occur when a distant planet is clothed in a biosphere whose life alters the host world’s atmosphere biosignatures—in other words, signs of life. “But as exciting as this prospect is, we won’t ever be able to claim we’ve found life without those all-important standards of evidence,” Frank writes. “And it’s those standards, stated clearly and followed precisely, that have everything to do with UFOs and NASA.”

If—or perhaps when?—NASA detects life elsewhere in the universe, the finding will come with the weight of the standards of evidence embodied by the agency. According to Frank:

The real opportunity lying in the proposed NASA study is not just about what it finds. Instead, it’s about showing the American people how NASA, and science in general, goes about the business of finding. Showing people how science and those standards of evidence work in a transparent way, and on a subject everyone is interested in, could be a powerful moment.

Portrait of Adam Frank.

Astrophysicist Adam Frank

A self-described “evangelist of science,” Frank regularly writes and speaks about subjects like intelligent life forms in the universe, high-energy-density physics, space exploration and missions, climate change, and more.

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Are UFOs real? More from Adam Frank about intelligent life in the universe

Several planets and star in space prompt researchers to answer the questions, are aliens real and do aliens exist.Are aliens real? Do aliens exist? Technosignatures may hold new clues

Adam Frank is searching for “technosignatures,” or the physical and chemical traces of advanced civilizations, among the 4,000 or so exoplanets scientists have found so far.

Photo-illustration of four versions of Earth to illustrate evolution of planetary intelligence.Can a planet have a mind of its own?

If a planet with life has a life of its own, can it also have a mind of its own? This line of inquiry “unites what we need to know to survive the climate crisis with what might happen on any planet where life and intelligence evolve,” says Adam Frank.


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Category: Voices & Opinion