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NASA to study UFOs, or unidentified aerial phenomena

The agency said Thursday it'll help "improve our understanding of the unknown."

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — Is it a bird, a plane or something that cannot be easily explained?

NASA said Thursday that it'll commission a team to start studying UFOs -- the exact term is actually unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs). 

While the agency cautions there is no evidence that these sightings are extra-terrestrial, just analyzing them is important.

"We have the tools and team who can help us improve our understanding of the unknown," Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a prepared statement. "That’s the very definition of what science is. That’s what we do.” 

The study, expected the start this fall, should take about nine months. 

NASA's move comes weeks after Congress held its first UFO briefing since 1969. At the public hearing, top military leaders explained the details about encounters pilots and other uniformed men and women have had with unexplained things flying in the air. 

Ronald Moultrie, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said the Pentagon was trying to destigmatize the issue and encourage pilots and other military personnel to report anything unusual they see.

“We want to know what's out there as much as you want to know what's out there,” Moultrie told lawmakers, adding that he was a fan of science fiction himself. “We get the questions not just from you. We get it from family and we get them night and day.”

Lawmakers from both parties say UFOs are a national security concern. Sightings of what appear to be aircraft flying without discernible means of propulsion have been reported near military bases and coastlines, raising the prospect that witnesses have spotted undiscovered or secret Chinese or Russian technology.

But the sightings are usually fleeting. Some appear for no more than an instant on camera — and then sometimes end up distorted by the camera lens. The U.S. government is believed to hold additional technical information on the sightings that it has not disclosed publicly.

An interim report released by intelligence officials last year counted 144 sightings of aircraft or other devices apparently flying at mysterious speeds or trajectories. In all but one of the sightings investigated, there was too little information for investigators to even broadly characterize the nature of the incident.

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