NASA said on Thursday it plans to assemble a team of scientists to examine "unidentified aerial phenomena" - commonly termed UFOs.
The U.S. space agency said the focus will be on identifying available data, the best ways to gather future data and how it can use that information to advance scientific understanding of the issue.
NASA picked David Spergel, who formerly headed Princeton University's astrophysics department, to lead the scientific team and Daniel Evans, a senior researcher in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, to orchestrate the study.
A team of scientists is due to be convened later in the year. According to Evans, they will develop a public report on its findings in around 9 months from then.
NASA will spend "anywhere from a few tens of thousands of dollars" to no more than $100,000 on the effort, he added.
The announcement comes a year after the U.S. government issued a report detailing observations of "unidentified aerial phenomenon," or UAPs. Two Pentagon officials testified on May 17 at the first congressional hearing on UFOs in a half century.
"We're looking at the Earth in new ways, and we're also looking the other way, at the sky, in new ways," Thomas Zurbuchen, the chief of NASA's science unit, told reporters. "What we're really trying to do here is start an investigation without an outcome in mind."
U.S. officials have described UAPs as a national security issue, which NASA echoed.
"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," said NASA.
Last year's report said U.S. defence and intelligence analysts lacked sufficient data to determine the nature of UAPs. They were unable to determine whether the objects were advanced earthly technologies, atmospherics or of an extraterrestrial origin. The two Pentagon officials last month acknowledged many observations remain beyond the government's ability to explain.
NASA said in a news release: "There is no evidence UAPs are extraterrestrial in origin."
The agency's involvement is aimed at providing more data, with an aim to leverage NASA's scientific talent, satellites and sensors otherwise tasked with monitoring Earth's climate or observing atmospheric conditions, Zurbuchen said.
"The first step is to figure out what data is at hand," said Evans.
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