"It is a world first," said Jacques Patenet, the aeronautical engineer who heads the office for the study of "non-identified aerospatial phenomena."
Known as OVNIs in French, UFOs have always generated intense interest along with countless conspiracy theories about secretive government cover-ups of findings deemed too sensitive or alarming for public consumption.
"Cases such as the lady who reported seeing an object that looked like a flying roll of toilet paper" are clearly not worth investigating, said Patenet
But many others involving multiple sightings -- in at least one case involving thousands of people across France -- and evidence such as burn marks and radar trackings showing flight patterns or accelerations that defy the laws of physics are taken very seriously.
A phalanx of beefy security guards formed a barrier in front of the space agency (CNES) headquarters where the announcement was made, "to screen out uninvited UFOlogists," an official explained.
Of the 1,600 cases registered since 1954, nearly 25 percent are classified as "type D", meaning that "despite good or very good data and credible witnesses, we are confronted with something we can't explain," Patenet
Of these, 10 percent are the object of on-site investigations, Patenet
Other countries collect data more or less systematically about unidentified flying objects, notably in Britain and in the United States, where information can be requested on a case-by-case basis under the Freedom of Information Act.
"But we decided to do it the other way around and made everything available to the public," Patenet