NASA on Monday launched a new independent study team to investigate unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) and pave a path forward for future probes into mysterious sightings and aircraft in the sky.

The 16-member team will investigate UAPs, now the formal name for what were previously called UFOs, over the course of nine months as they seek to lay the groundwork for future studies.

The team will focus on how data collected by civilians, governments and commercial businesses can be analyzed to shed light on UAPs — and then construct a roadmap for future NASA analyses.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., said the focus on data is important because the raw information is the “language of scientists and makes the unexplainable, explainable.”

 “Understanding the data we have surrounding unidentified aerial phenomena is critical to helping us draw scientific conclusions about what is happening in our skies,” Zurbuchen said in a statement. “Exploring the unknown in space and the atmosphere is at the heart of who we are at NASA.”

The U.S. government in the past couple of years has taken a renewed and more serious look at UAP encounters.

Last year, the Pentagon released a long-awaited report on aerial phenomena that found about 144 unexplained UAP encounters from 2004 to 2021.

And over the spring, the House Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation Subcommittee held Congress’s first UFO hearing in about 50 years.

Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), the subcommittee’s chairman, called for a destigmatization of UAP reporting. And other lawmakers on the committee warned that UAPs posed a potential national security threat.

During the hearing, the Pentagon said that its UAP database has now grown to around 400 encounters.

Defense department officials also released a new video of a pilot at a U.S. Navy training base encountering a strange spherical object zipping by at an extremely high speed.

The NASA study could be the largest effort yet in charting a new path toward better understanding UAP encounters.

The group involves members from a wide range of backgrounds in both the public and private sector, including a former astronaut, a data science professor, an oceanographer, a Federal Aviation Administration director, a computer programmer and an astrophysicist, among others.

The independent group is led by David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation, a private foundation researching mathematics and science.

Daniel Evans, the assistant deputy associate administrator for research at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, was responsible for organizing the effort, according to NASA.

Evans said in a statement that “NASA has brought together some of the world’s leading scientists, data and artificial intelligence practitioners” in the hopes they can “tell us how to apply the full focus of science and data to UAP.”

“The findings will be released to the public in conjunction with NASA’s principles of transparency, openness, and scientific integrity,” Evans said.