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In an unprecedented move in its more than 60-year history, NASA has begun an independent study of UFOs, which it prefers to call fanis.

Changing terminology has to do with stigma. UFO, English acronym for unidentified flying object (where UFO comes from), is already too identified with crazies of supposed flying saucers and alien visitors for serious scientists to get too close without fear of damaging their reputation. On the other hand, UAP, or unidentified aerial phenomenon (the friendly fani), is cleaner and more precise in its imprecision – it does not even assume that they are “objects”.

First-time conspiracy paranoids will look with suspicion on the space agency’s new effort, to be led by astrophysicist David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation in New York and former head of the astrophysics department at Princeton University. Perhaps they see it as a reprint of Project Blue Book, which the US Air Force undertook between 1952 and 1969, in consultation with astronomer J. Allen Hynek.

On that occasion, the effort to investigate strange apparitions in the sky quickly turned into an effort to discredit or explain by conventional means any of the occurrences, which ended up alienating Hynek himself, converted from skeptic to enthusiast of the hypothesis of alien visits by some of the occurrences. .

At least intrigued, let’s face it, we are all. There are indeed events that defy known explanations, although it is impossible to jump from there to the idea that they are ETs. What the new NASA study should do is just start an effort to map out how we can frame the question scientifically.

In a press conference, the agency said it will last nine months and will cost no more than a modest $100,000. Don’t expect him to come up with any answers about the fanis themselves (or UFOs, if you like). What he intends to scrutinize is what resources, and with what modes of observation, the topic can actually be approached effectively.

One could imagine, for example, combining high-resolution Earth observation images obtained from space with artificial intelligence systems to look for possible anomalous occurrences, and the context may provide explanations for them.

Once this initial study presents research paths, then the agency could actually open a program on the subject. And what could he reveal? Perhaps new strange atmospheric phenomena, capable of explaining past occurrences that are still mysterious today. And maybe there’s room to even corroborate the alien visit hypothesis, if we’re lucky and something is seen moving in and out of the planet. Who knows. But don’t hold your breath waiting for it.

In your press release, NASA makes clear what the starting point is: “There is no evidence that the fanis are of extraterrestrial origin.” The point of arrival, we will only know after the study is over.

This column is published on Mondays, in Folha Corrida.

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