NASA launches study of UFOs despite ‘reputational risk’

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. sighting / ˈsaɪtɪŋ / (n.) – an occasion where something is seen or witnessed

    Tourists visit that area because of frequent celebrity sightings.

  2. sell out / sɛl aʊt / (idiom) – to do something that is against what someone believes in, especially to gain something or earn money

    We knew the solar energy company was selling out when it started collaborating with oil companies.

  3. shy away / ʃaɪ əˈweɪ / (phrasal v.) – to avoid something because of fear, dislike, etc.

    She didn’t shy away from the opportunity to lead a big project because she wanted to be a manager.

  4. classified / ˈklæs əˌfaɪd / (adj.) – secret or not available to the public

    He was arrested for publishing classified military information.

  5. preconceived / ˌpri kənˈsivd / (adj.) – formed before getting all information needed

    The preconceived judgments around ex-convicts make it hard for them to find work.


Read the text below.

NASA is launching a study of UFOs as part of a new push toward high-risk, high-impact science.

The space agency announced that it’s setting up an independent team to see how much information is publicly available on the matter and how much more is needed to understand the unexplained sightings. The experts will also consider how best to use all this information in the future.

NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen acknowledged the traditional scientific community may see NASA as “kind of selling out” by venturing into the controversial topic, but he strongly disagrees.

“We are not shying away from reputational risk,” Zurbuchen said during a National Academy of Sciences webcast. “Our strong belief is that the biggest challenge of these phenomena is that it’s a data-poor field.”

NASA considers this a first step in trying to explain mysterious sightings in the sky known as UAPs, or unidentified aerial phenomena.

The study will begin this fall and last nine months, costing no more than $100,000. It will be entirely open, with no classified military data used.

NASA said the team will be led by astrophysicist David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation for advancing scientific research. In a news conference, Spergel said the only preconceived notion going into the study is that the UAPs will likely have multiple explanations.

“We have to approach all these questions with a sense of humility,” Spergel said. “I spent most of my career as a cosmologist. I can tell you we don’t know what makes up 95% of the universe. So there are things we don’t understand.”

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Do you think NASA will be taken less seriously if they study aliens? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • Do you think it’s important for other scientific branches to study what others see as non-traditional (ex. physicists studying “ghosts,” doctors studying “alternative medicine”)? Why or why not? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • According to Spergel, we don’t know what makes up 95% of the universe. How do you feel about that (ex. scared, curious)? Why? Discuss.
  • Do you think there are aliens or livable planets out there? Why or why not? Discuss.