Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t buy UFO sightings, alien abduction stories

The famed astrophysicist will be at the Fox Theatre Sunday, March 10.

The Fox Theatre schedule in coming weeks includes the usual array of stand-up comedy (Chris Tucker, Theo Von), music (Celtic Women, the Black Crowes) and Broadway musicals (”Beetlejuice,” “Shrek”).

Oh, and one astrophysicist.

In fact, it’s fair to say there is only one living astrophysicist who could sell thousands of tickets at the Fox Theatre: Neil deGrasse Tyson. And he’s there for one of his many themed shows, this time focused on intelligent life beyond mere earthlings. The show is 3 p.m. Sunday, March 10, with some tickets still available starting at $59.50. (It’s also part of the two-week Atlanta Science Festival.)

“The search for life in the universe is a hot topic right now,” Tyson said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Last July, Congress held a hearing where former military officials discussed UFO sightings, which Tyson said have been inexplicably renamed unidentified aerial phenomena or UAPs. Two purported “alien mummies” found at a Peruvian airport last fall were actually created by humans out of animal and human parts. NASA has funded a project to explore exoplanets using small spacecraft to study Earth-like planets in nearby solar systems.

“In my show, you’ll learn the ingredients of life on Earth are the most common ingredients in the universal, and life is particularly opportunistic about this,” said Tyson, who is the long-time director of the famed Hayden Planetarium in New York City. “There are religious implications if we are not alone in the universe. ... There are a lot of social, cultural, intellectual and philosophical questions that unfold in this talk. I have video and slides and me talking. So it’s a nice night out.”

THE KELLY CLARKSON SHOW -- Episode 7I024 -- Pictured: (l-r) Neil deGrasse Tyson, Kelly Clarkson -- (Photo by: Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal)

Credit: Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal

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Credit: Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal

Tyson, who parsed the actual science in various famous science fiction movies while visiting the Fox Theatre in 2018 and Atlanta Symphony Hall two years ago, said he doubts actual aliens would look remotely like us with arms, legs and torsos as depicted in many films and TV shows over the years.

“That shows our lack of imagination,” he said. “A banana doesn’t look like us yet has more than 50% of the same genetic matter as a human.”

He is also skeptical of traditional UFO and alien sightings and abduction stories over the decades. “I’m not convinced by what people put forth as evidence for that,” he said. “Those sightings were more frequent before we had high-resolution photos and videos. If they were real, we’d have video by now. We have none. Sure, there are witnesses. But as we’ve seen in court, witnesses are not reliable.”

Tyson, 65, is also nonplussed by the recent moon landing by NASA and a private company Intuitive Machines, the first U.S. vehicle on the moon in 52 years. “It landed sideways,” he said. “I remember when humans walked on the moon. How excited do you want me to be?”

Neil deGrasse Tyson attends the premiere of "Dune: Part Two" at Lincoln Center Plaza on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

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Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

And motivations, he said, are more geopolitical than scientific. The first space race was basically a proxy Cold War battle between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1960s. More recently, he said, NASA has had renewed interest because China has sent multiple probes to the moon and wants to have astronauts back there by 2030. NASA has now said it plans to have astronauts on the moon again by 2026.

“We’re very good at reacting but not very good at being proactive,” Tyson said.

He thinks there’s still a chance a private company might eventually turn the moon into a viable tourist attraction many moons from now, but it would be mighty expensive. “They could create a space travel lottery so regular people can go,” he said. “I’d spend $1 a week knowing one of my own people could go.”


“Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Search for Life in the Universe”

3 p.m. Sunday, March 10. $59.50 and up. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta.