Elon Musk’s Uncertainty About Aliens Can Be Resolved by the Scientific Method

Avi Loeb
5 min readMay 13, 2024


A real photograph of Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster, with Earth in the background. The camera was mounted on the external boom. (Image credit: SpaceX)

A reporter brought to my attention a compilation of recent statements from Elon Musk on the subject of aliens. They included a social media post : “I have seen no evidence for aliens and, with about 6000 satellites orbiting Earth, I think I would know.” In an interview, Musk explained: “A lot of people ask me where are the aliens, and I think if anyone would know about aliens on Earth, it would probably be me.” More recently, Musk elaborated on the same theme in a panel discussion : “SpaceX, with the Starlink constellation, has roughly 6,000 satellites, and not once have we had to maneuver around a UFO… Never. So, I’m like, okay, I don’t see any evidence of aliens.” Musk also said: “If somebody has evidence of aliens, you know, that’s not just a fuzzy blob, then I’d love to see it, love to hear about it, but I don’t think there is.” He then concluded: “We should really think of human civilization as being like a tiny candle in a vast darkness.”

This last sentence is premature based on the standards of science. Keep in mind that the volume occupied by the disk of stars in our Milky-Way galaxy is 41 orders of magnitude (1 followed by 41 zeros) larger than the volume surveyed by the Starlink satellites and the Milky-Way history is measured in billions of years. But even near Earth, the chance of a meter-size object to collide with a Starlink satellite in one orbit at an altitude of order 550 kilometers is a part in 10 million. It would take a thousand years for a collision to occur. But even if there were many meter-size UFOs near Earth, most of them might spend most of their time at a lower altitude.

Putting aside the negligible chance for a direct collision, Starlink satellites are not equipped with cameras and sensors needed to detect objects that arrive near Earth from interstellar space. The relevant instruments were assembled recently in the Harvard Observatory of the Galileo Project that I am leading. Astronomers never constructed an observatory to survey the entire sky at all times for nearby, fast moving objects. In recent months we used our optical, infrared and audio sensors to detect nearly a million objects in the sky. We did not find a UFO as of yet. But even if one in a billion objects will be found to have originated from outside the Solar system, this discovery will be big news for humanity. The government’s day job is national security and we should not ask it to tell us what lies outside the Solar system. This is my day job as an astrophysicist.

The Galileo Project is in the process of constructing two copies of the Harvard Observatory in Colorado and Pennsylvania, at a cost of half a million dollars per observatory. With the investment of ten million dollars, we could build twenty observatories in different locations and get to the bottom of the mysterious nature of the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAPs) reported by the Director of National Intelligence to the U.S. Congress in recent years. If Elon Musk is genuinely curious on whether interstellar objects orbit near Earth, the Galileo Project team can build the needed observatories for him.

But there is another path for collecting related scientific evidence. A year ago, I led a Pacific Ocean expedition to retrieve materials from the crash site of the 2014 interstellar meteor discovered by U.S. government satellites. We are now planning the next expedition in search of bigger pieces from this wreckage. Here again, Elon Musk can promote the collection of new data by funding this new expedition. We will be delighted to have him on our research team or report directly to him in real time from the Pacific Ocean, in case he wishes to fund our next expedition.

There are hundreds of billions of stars which are older than the Sun by billions of years in the Milky Way galaxy alone. Even with conventional chemical propulsion, as used by SpaceX, it takes less than a billion years to traverse the Milky Way disk from one side to the other. It would be arrogant to think that we are alone without checking our back yard for interstellar technological space trash.

Consider the Tesla Roadster car launched as a dummy payload by SpaceX in 2018. It is now in an elliptic orbit around the Sun but cannot be seen by our survey telescopes because its small size does not reflect enough sunlight. However, the car would be easily detected by the U.S. Government satellites when it collides with Earth in tens of millions of years, through the fireball that it will generate as a result of its friction with air. I wonder how many dummy payloads similar to the Tesla Roadster car are out there, constituting interstellar space trash. Every now and then, one of them may collide with Earth, and we could retrieve its defunct engine from the wreckage on the ocean floor.

When people say: “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” they are not seeking the evidence. In response, I say: “extraordinary evidence requires extraordinary funding and proper instruments.” In order to discover the Higgs boson, we had to invest ten billion dollars in the Large Hadron Collider. New scientific knowledge does not fall into our lap; it requires a dedicated effort.

Elon Musk’s uncertainty about aliens can be resolved by using the scientific method. I am as curious as he is about aliens and will be delighted to do the scientific search in collaboration with him. The path not taken is straightforward: he can easily reach me by email or phone. In 2012, Elon and I were featured on the same page in Scientific American’s list of “The 25 Most Influential People in Space.”


Image credit: Chris Michel (October 2023)

Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, was published in August 2023.



Avi Loeb

Avi Loeb is the Baird Professor of Science and Institute director at Harvard University and the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial” and "Interstellar".