how scientists work to study unidentified aerospace phenomena

On October 21, NASA appointed 16 independent experts (professors, astronauts, science journalists and oceanographers) to investigate the unidentified aerospace phenomena, UAP, better known as UFOs.

The formation of this NASA study group comes after several sequences on the subject of UFOs, including in particular in 2020 declassified videos from the archives of the US Navy and the establishment by the US Department of Defense of the UAPTF group (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force) then in July 2022 the creation of the AARO (All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office): the anomaly resolution office for all domains, dependent on the Ministry of Defense.

Read more: “UFO” video declassified by the Pentagon: decryption and details

The group set up by NASA has the task of studying data and techniques useful for analyzing the strange phenomena observed for 9 months. It will also review associated air hazards and make recommendations for follow-up to be provided.

This work is of particular interest to the GEIPAN (Group for Study and Information on Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena), a service of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), which has been investigating UAPs in France for 45 years. GEIPAN was invited to present its activities and working methods to the independent NAP working group led by NASA.

Created in 1977 by the CNES, the GEIPAN is composed of a team of 4 people, in charge of collecting testimonies, surveys, publishing studies, informatics and guiding the structure. It is a technical service of the CNES that operates with external personnel, skills and structures: twenty investigators and twenty experts, all external to the CNES, as well as numerous institutional partners (Aeronautics, National Gendarmerie, National Police, CNRS, Météo-France , Civil Aviation).

Screenshot of the Canal + “Ovni (s)” series where we see the reconstruction of the SimOvni device.
Channel +

The existence of this “UFO office” has also been popularized in recent years, with the UFOs of the Canal + series, which, despite being a fiction, showed real equipment used by GEIPAN to investigate, such as the SimOvni, useful to reconstruct sightings described by witnesses.

What is a NAP today?

An unidentified aerospace phenomenon (UAP) is a strange, usually bright event observed in the sky by witnesses that appears inexplicable.

In over 60% of cases, UAPs have simple explanations: they are Asian lanterns, balloons or hot air balloons, planes, satellites, meteorites, stars, planets, etc. It may seem simple, even trivial as an explanation, but it is important to underline that every observation made always presents a strangeness, a singularity, a spectacular or unusual aspect that prompted the witness to make a complaint. GEIPAN thus receives 700 reports per year for which 150 to 200 inquiries are opened. Anyone can access the testimonial questionnaire on the website.

The viewing environment and setup can contribute to the odd: for example, poor lighting, no noise, the turbulence of the atmosphere that makes a star sparkle, or the sun’s reflection on an airplane.

Observation can sometimes be spectacular, such as meteorites re-entering the atmosphere. Another atypical example: the launching of the constellation of the Starlink satellites into orbit gives rise to numerous line relationships of very bright points and a luminous sphere. The series of points is the series of 50 to 60 satellites as they were put into orbit. They are observed at dusk or dawn, when the sky is dark and the sun reflects off the satellites. For the luminous sphere, it is the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that puts satellites into orbit. Propulsion for one or two seconds creates a gas bubble which, illuminated by a setting or rising sun, reveals a luminous sphere in the night. The shining point, sometimes in the shape of a butterfly, accompanies this sphere. This is the passivation of the second stage of the rocket. The latter is emptied of its oxygen and kerosene before its re-entry into the atmosphere.

Observation of the reassembled Falcon 9 rocket at GEIPAN.
Witness-GEIPAN, Author provided

Observation can also be misunderstood: an amateur astronomer observing a bright flash in the sky with high-quality images, for example. Consumer astronomy applications do not have sufficient data to find the explanation: in this case, only internal expert reports from CNES, the space surveillance service, will highlight the presence of a rocket from the ground, on which the sun’s rays are reflected.

Also, watching a lantern go out can be perceived as an object escaping at extreme speed!

To explain the strange or misunderstood observations reported to us, we have many tools and applications in a wide variety of fields: aeronautics, aerospace (satellites and debris), astronomy (stars and meteorites), meteorology, image processing, etc.

The observed phenomena are explained in about 2/3 of the cases. But it happens that we have too little information to analyze the testimony and produce an explanation: this is about 1/3 of the cases reported to us.

For about 3% of cases, the “D cases”, we have enough information, but we have not found an explanation. All the hypotheses that have been formulated and analyzed are not satisfactory.

The GEIPAN methodology

GEIPAN’s objectives are therefore clear: to provide or try to provide a rational response to misunderstood, unusual, sometimes spectacular observations and to explain the strangeness perceived by a witness.

For this reason, our activity includes 3 main phases: the collection of testimonies, the realization of technical studies and the publication of analysis reports on the GEIPAN website while preserving the anonymity of the witnesses.

The mission begins with the collection of a testimony. This is a questionnaire completed on our website or a police report. This data is always very specific. It can be based on photos or videos, but it is always formulated by a human being. As with a scientific measurement, this data contains “measurement noise”, which varies greatly depending on the person reporting the event to us. Sometimes it is very good, but interpretations or even distortions related to the presence of emotions, memories or beliefs can appear. Our first job is therefore to filter out this noise, to focus on extracting and using only factual data.

Subsequently, the study of the testimony improves the consistency (quality and quantity of information) of the observation and reduces its strangeness. For this we use the GEIPAN IT database and a multitude of technical applications and software. These are tools for the general public, but also very valuable skills carried out by our partners, in particular the Air Force (return of aircraft trajectories from radar measurements), MétéoFrance (precise weather conditions) and internally CNES (very precise tracks of satellites and debris).

Sometimes we are called to carry out a field survey. This allows us to analyze the observation configuration more precisely and to carry out a cognitive interview with the witness. The goal of this interview is to deepen the testimony and bring out as much reliable information as possible without disturbing or polluting the testimony. It is a real GEIPAN know-how developed and taught by our expert psychologist. For our most difficult cases, our multidisciplinary expert committee meets to carry out the study and then collectively decide on the conclusion to be drawn.

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