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  • richardmitnick 11:47 am on November 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Jill Tarter, Radcliffe, , , The search for intelligent life in the universe   

    From Harvard Gazette: “Is anybody out there?” 

    Harvard University
    Harvard University

    From Harvard Gazette

    Earth’s night lights seen from the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of NASA

    Astronomer Jill Tarter on the search for intelligent life.

    The question of whether we’re alone in the universe has haunted humankind for thousands of years, and it’s one astronomer Jill Tarter has tried to answer for much of her life. Tarter, chair emeritus of the Center for SETI Research, worked as a project scientist for NASA’s SETI program, which aimed to detect transmissions from alien intelligence.

    She currently serves on the board for the Allen Telescope Array, a group of more than 350 telescopes north of San Francisco.

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA, Altitude 986 m (3,235 ft)

    “We are looking for signals at some frequency, some wavelength that don’t look like what Mother Nature produces,” she said in 2014.

    Tarter, an inspiration behind the novel and film Contact, visited campus last month to participate in the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s science symposium “The Undiscovered,” which addressed how scientists “explore realities they cannot anticipate.” We spoke with her about her work and why it matters.

    Q&A with Jill Tarter

    Jill Tarter Image courtesy of Jill Tarter

    GAZETTE: You’ve spoken a lot about the importance of perspective. What would finding other intelligent life do to our perspective on life in the universe and our own lives?

    TARTER: Even not finding it but trying to find it is important because it helps to give people a more cosmic perspective. I usually send people home from a lecture with a homework assignment, which is to go and alter their profiles on all of their social media so that the first thing they say about themselves is that they are an Earthling, because I think that this is the kind of perspective we are going to need to figure out how to solve all these really difficult challenges we have that don’t respect national boundaries. We’ve got to do it in a systemic global way, and I think the first step to getting there is to see ourselves in that context.

    GAZETTE: What are the odds are that we might find something?

    TARTER: It seems like there’s perhaps an impression that the universe has become more biofriendly in terms of what we think we know. But it doesn’t mean that all that habitable real estate is inhabited. That is the question. We don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s really exciting that we are developing ways to explore our own solar system and we are developing instruments that can hopefully image some of the worlds around other stars and try to find out whether there’s any biology or technology going on there.

    GAZETTE: Do you think that will happen in your lifetime?

    TARTER: Well, let’s see. Back in 2004, [genetic scientists] Craig Venter and Daniel Cohen made a very bold prediction. They said whereas the 20th century had been the century of physics, the 21st century was going to be the century of biology. I personally think that wasn’t bold enough. I think the 21st century is going to be the century of biology on Earth and beyond. I think this will be a century when we begin to understand whether or not life has originated within the solar system more than once, and perhaps around other stars.

    GAZETTE: You talked about giving your listeners homework. My colleague mentioned to me an app that you could download to your computer that would help search for intelligent life while the machine slept.

    TARTER: That’s right. It was called SETI@home and it was developed at UC Berkeley.

    SETI@home, a BOINC project originated in the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley

    It runs as a background process on your computer and it really put citizen science and distributed computing on the map when it came out about 12 years ago. It didn’t invent distributed computing — people were already doing that to break codes or factor prime numbers. But it was such a sexy application that everybody grabbed it and it took off and citizen science followed in its footsteps. It’s a very large group of people who classify galaxies, who fold proteins for cancer research, who count craters on various pieces of real estate in the solar system.

    It’s still going. It processes data that has been recorded at the Arecibo and Green Bank observatories.

    NAIC Arecibo Observatory operated by University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and UMET, Altitude 497 m (1,631 ft).

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    GAZETTE: You famously disagreed with Stephen Hawking when he said that he feared the potentially aggressive nature of any intelligent life we might one day encounter.

    TARTER: Stephen was a brilliant man, but neither of us has any data on this point other than our own terrestrial history. My point of view is the kind of scenario that’s being posited is that they are going to show up and do us harm. Well, if they can get here, their technology is far more advanced than ours, and I don’t know how you get to be an advanced older technology and have a long history unless you outgrow the aggression that probably helped you to get smart in the first place. So, I think an old technology, if such a thing exists, is going to be stable and it’s going to have gone through the kind of cultural evolution, the kind of social evolution that [Harvard Professor] Steven Pinker talks about. So, from my point of view, if they are coming from an older technology and can get here, they don’t have bad intentions. It doesn’t mean that the interaction will be rosy, because there are often unintended consequences.

    GAZETTE: Final question: “Contact” excluded, favorite alien or space movie?

    TARTER: Oh, I like “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

    See the full article here .


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    Harvard University campus
    Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

  • richardmitnick 6:46 pm on September 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , How Much SETI Has Been Done? Finding Needles in the n-Dimensional Cosmic Haystack, Jill Tarter, ,   

    From Science News: “We may not have found aliens yet because we’ve barely begun looking” 

    From Science News

    September 30, 2018
    Lisa Grossman

    A new calculation compares the effort so far to exploring a hot tub’s–worth of Earth’s oceans.

    NAIC Arecibo Observatory operated by University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and UMET, Altitude 497 m (1,631 ft)

    With no luck so far in a six-decade search for signals from aliens, you’d be forgiven for thinking, “Where is everyone?”

    A new calculation shows that if space is an ocean, we’ve barely dipped in a toe. The volume of observable space combed so far for E.T. is comparable to searching the volume of a large hot tub for evidence of fish in Earth’s oceans, astronomer Jason Wright at Penn State and colleagues say in a paper posted online September 19 at arXiv.org.

    “If you looked at a random hot tub’s worth of water in the ocean, you wouldn’t always expect a fish,” Wright says.

    Still, that’s far more space searched than calculated in 2010 for the 50th anniversary of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. In that work, SETI pioneer Jill Tarter and colleagues imagined a “cosmic haystack” of naturally occurring radio waves she could sift through for the proverbial needle of an artificial, alien beacon (SN Online: 5/29/12).

    SETI’s Jill Tarter

    Her haystack went beyond physical space to include factors such as a possible signal’s duration, frequency, variations and strength, as well as the sensitivity of radio telescopes on Earth that would presumably detect a signal.

    Wow! signal

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA, Altitude 986 m (3,235 ft)

    She concluded that searches had covered about a drinking glass’s worth of seawater — hardly enough to conclude the ocean is fishless.

    Wright and colleagues Shubham Kanodia and Emily Lubar updated Tarter’s calculation by devising a slightly different haystack, including factors like the frequency and bandwidth aliens might broadcast in. It also included more recent SETI searches such as the Breakthrough Listen project (SN Online: 7/20/15).

    Breakthrough Listen Project


    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

    Converting the volume to liters for the sake of analogy, the researchers concluded that SETI has covered the equivalent of 7,700 liters out of 1.335 billion trillion liters of water in Earth’s oceans.

    “We’re finally getting to the point today … that we have a chance of finding something, depending on how much there is to find,” Wright says.

    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 8:37 am on September 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 235 ft), A team of Russian astronomers reported in 2015 that a telescope in the Caucasus region had intercepted a mysterious signal from a distant star, Carl Sagan’s novel "Contact", Ellie Arroway, , , Has an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation had built an “alien megastructure” around their star to harvest all of its energy?, Jill Tarter, Rio 2.0, , SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco California USA Altitude 986 m (3, , , There are an estimated 400bn stars in the Milky Way and evidence shows that most have planets circling them, WOW!! signal   

    From The Guardian: “First contact or false alarm? New Richter-like scale for alien signals” 

    The Guardian Logo

    From The Guardian

    Rio 2.0 rates potential signs of extraterrestrial life from 0 to 10, with 10 equivalent to ‘an alien shaking your hand’.

    Alien seeker … Jodie Foster as Ellie Arroway in the 1997 movie Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s novel. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

    When a team of Russian astronomers reported in 2015 that a telescope in the Caucasus region had intercepted a mysterious signal from a distant star, talk of extraterrestrials was not far behind. As some asked: was this proof aliens were trying to contact us?

    The answer came soon enough. Follow-up observations from other telescopes failed to confirm the signal and researchers came to the conclusion that the source of the signal was far closer to home. The chances are it came from a passing plane or a person on a citizens band radio, or was down to a glitch in the telescope’s electronics.

    It was not the first time public excitement had been whipped up by signals that turned out to be proof of something far less exciting than an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation. And in expectation that more false signals will come, scientists have now created their own Richter-like scale to explain whether a finding is a damp squib or has truly seismic implications.

    The new scale allows scientists to rate interesting signals detected in searches for extraterrestrial intelligence from 0 to 10, where 0 is nothing to get excited about and 10 is equivalent to “an alien space probe orbiting the Earth or an alien shaking your hand,” said Duncan Forgan, who worked on the project, at the University of St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science.

    There are many alternative explanations that need to be considered when evaluating a potential extraterrestrial signal. “There could be a problem with your telescope or a radio frequency coming from something on Earth,” Forgan said. “You might think you found an alien but actually you found a taxi rank.”

    Known as Rio 2.0, the scale is a proposed upgrade of an existing Rio scale that is already used by the alien-hunting community. It assigns scores to Seti (“search for extraterrestrial intelligence”) signals by taking into account both the potential implications of the signal and the likelihood that it is genuine, rather than down to natural or human-made phenomena.

    “We are talking about extraordinary claims here and so you need extraordinary evidence to go with them,” Forgan said. “Ideally this means multiple observations from multiple instruments – as well as from different research teams using the same instruments.”

    Under the proposals, scientists could issue their own Rio scale number for any interesting signals they detect, but so could fellow academics who review their work for publication. The rating system is also being made available to the public.

    “It is clear from citizen science projects that the general public are able to complete similar classification tasks with relatively low amounts of training,” the scientists write in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

    There are an estimated 400bn stars in the Milky Way, and evidence shows that most have planets circling them. But with so many stars being observed, there is a constant risk of technical glitches or spurious signals masquerading as potential alien transmissions.

    In one of the most recent false alarms, the periodic dimming of a star led to speculation that an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation had built an “alien megastructure” around their star to harvest all of its energy. Thousands of headlines and closer observations later, the real cause turned out to be dust.

    Jill Tarter, a co-founder of the Seti Institute in Mountain View, California, and an author of the paper, said the new scale could be used like the Richter scale, which describes the severity of earthquakes.

    SETI’s Jill Tarter

    SETI Institute

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA, Altitude 986 m (3,235 ft)

    Drake Equation, Frank Drake, Seti Institute

    Frank Drake with his Drake Equation. Credit Frank Drake

    A signal is scored immediately and then continuously updated as new data arrives. More credibility will be given to discoveries with multiple independent Rio scores.

    Tarter, who was the inspiration for the alien-seeking Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s novel Contact and the subsequent movie with Jodie Foster, spotted potential extraterrestrial signals three times in her career, but each time found mundane explanations for them. The group of astronomers behind Rio 2.0 say it could be tested on fictional scenarios such as the one in the film, as well as on historical “false alarms” such as the famous “Wow!” signal.

    Wow! signal

    Andrew Siemion, another co-author, and director at the Seti Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, added: “We absolutely encourage wide assessment of the Rio scale for any purported discovery, particularly by independent scientists. It is critical in any scientific process to have independent review of methods and interpretation.”

    The new Rio Scale has been submitted to the International Academy of Astronautics Permanent Committee on Seti for official ratification.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 7:32 am on July 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Jill Tarter, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,   

    From SETI: “The Biography of SETI Pioneer Jill Tarter, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is Released” 

    SETI Logo new
    SETI Institute

    July 05 2017

    Rebecca McDonald
    Director of Communications


    Jill Tarter is the subject of a new book by Sarah Scoles, Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which was released yesterday. Jill is a pioneer in SETI research and currently holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair at the SETI Institute. Making Contact is not just for scientists and SETI enthusiasts, but truly is the story of Jill’s life and her life’s work.

    “This is one woman’s view of the roller coaster history of SETI explorations,” said Jill. “Sarah has told it with a fresh voice that makes me grin.”

    In Making Contact, Scoles examines the science behind the work that tries to answer the question, “Are we alone?” Jill was the inspiration for the character of Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact, a role played by Jodie Foster in the film, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. Scoles tells Jill’s story, and also begins to wonder how a new generation of SETI research will look.

    “A fictional story about SETI, partly inspired by Tarter, has spurred so many people’s interests in astronomy and life in the universe,” said Scoles. “I hope the nonfictional tale of the actual search and the actual Tarter can do something similar.”

    Scoles suggests that without Jill, SETI programs, including the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA) and Breakthrough Listen might not exist.

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA

    Breakthrough Listen Project


    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

    Additionally, funding for SETI research has always been a challenge to obtain. Indeed, the SETI Institute’s own SETI program is funded entirely through private donations and receives no government support. Jill’s ongoing efforts continue to make groundbreaking SETI research possible.

    “Jill is not only a SETI pioneer, and world-class astronomer, her life and work have served as inspiration for an entire new generation of women in science, including many here at the SETI Institute” said Institute CEO, Bill Diamond. “Her toughness, tenacity and perseverance in a male-dominated field of enquiry are fully explored in this captivating biography of a scientist possessed by what is perhaps humankind’s greatest quest – answering that singular question – Are we alone?”

    Jill and Sarah will appear together on July 12 at the Cubberley Community Center in Mountain View, CA to discuss the book and new directions in SETI research. The presentation is part of the SETI Institute’s SETI Talks series and will also feature SETI Institute scientists Eliot Gillum and Seth Shostak. Tickets are available here.

    See the full article here .
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  • richardmitnick 6:33 am on July 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Jill Tarter,   

    From WIRED: “Jill Tarter Never Found Aliens—But Her Successors Might” 

    Wired logo


    Sarah Scoles

    Getty Images

    In December 2016, three generations of women astronomers joined me for a phone call. Debra Fischer, Natalie Batalha, and Margaret Turnbull have dedicated their careers to comprehending planets beyond the solar system, the signs of microbial life that might be on those planets, or both of those out-there topics. We talked some about their astronomy, but we mostly talk about another astronom_er_: Jill Tarter—the long-time leader of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and the inspiration for the movie and book Contact’s main character, Ellie Arroway.

    SETI Jill Tarter

    SETI Institute

    When Turnbull first watched Contact, as an intern at Harvard University, she was ready to scoff. Contact follows Arroway as she searches for a radio signal from an intelligent extraterrestrial civilization, battling bureaucracy, politicians, economic woes, statistical unlikelihood, institutionalized sexism, and her own emotional demons. As a nonfictional woman scientist and a SETI scientist, Tarter faced the same challenges. But this is where the two women’s stories depart: Arroway finds a signal. E.T. calls. E.T. sends instructions for building a spaceship. Humanity builds the spaceship (not without trials), and (not without trials) Arroway becomes the sole passenger.

    “I was pretty sure, going into the movie, that I was going to know everything they were doing wrong because I was the smartest I’d ever been when I was a junior in college,” she says, laughing. “But by the end, I forgot all about that attitude and was basically standing on my chair in the theater saying, ‘That’s what I’m supposed to do!’”

    Not long after that, in graduate school, Turnbull talked with Tarter in person. “How can somebody do their PhD with you?” she asked.

    Courtesy of Pegasus Books

    Tarter told her that she and her colleagues were terrible graduate advisors, and she didn’t recommend it. But the next summer, Turnbull went to the SETI Institute anyway and worked (ill-advisedly, with Tarter) to create a catalog of star systems that could be habitable for life, aptly called the HabCat. Turnbull doesn’t do SETI now, but she sees her own work—in exoplanets and astrobiology, the study of how life comes to be and change and stay, here and potentially elsewhere —as the best way to get close to those investigations that so inspired her in Contact.

    The three women then ask each other how many times they have each seen Contact, a question that is first met with ooohs and aaahs, and followed by admissions that they watch it at least once a year. No fictional science movie—not The Martian, or Interstellar, or Arrival—has affected them as much as Arroway’s adventures and misadventures did.

    But they do understand and, in some ways, sympathize with the idea that what they do is mainstream, while what inspired them about Contact is fringe. “Within the scientific community, there is healthy skepticism,” says Fischer. “And the question is ‘How do you ever get to a meaningful null result?’” Meaning, “How long and how hard do SETI scientists have to look for extraterrestrial intelligence and find nothing before they say, ‘There is nothing. We are alone.’”

    And there’s not a good answer, because the thing about the universe is there’s always more of it to search. There are always new ways that aliens might communicate. And you could try different combinations of places and ways of looking forever and never concede. The inability to get a null result makes a study, in the eyes of some and in some philosophies of science, unscientific. That’s part of why Tarter and other SETI colleagues have tried to set limits—like looking at a million stars within 1,000 light-years—from which they can draw incremental and statistical conclusions.

    Batalha, though, expresses solidarity with the non-conclusion of the conclusion of Tarter’s career—that non-conclusion being that she hasn’t found intelligent aliens but can’t say they’re not out there. SETI, astrobiology, and exoplanet science all require generations of work. The whole of science does, really. Big discoveries are rare, coming decades or centuries after people start wondering and doing the work that scaffolds them, shores them up, sets them up to succeed. But without that initial wondering, and those first small steps, no one would make giant leaps at all. “Jill has had this really luminous career doing SETI,” says Batalha. “But at the end of the day, she retired and hadn’t found anything. And I’m guessing that might be my fate as well, in terms of finding [microbial] life. I might live to see that day, or I might not.”

    To be an astronomer at all is to be zen about that: about cosmic time and about how you are a cog in the big machine of science, whose gears began turning long before you and will continue to turn long after you. Sometimes those gears grind to a result because of your cog, and sometimes your cog is just there to keep the gears going.

    All astronomers have days when they’re good at being zen, and days when they feel hopeless about and powerless before the uncaring bigness and seeming incomprehensibility of the universe. Tarter has had more of the latter recently.

    Batalha recalls a meeting for the Kepler space telescope—which has discovered thousands of planets outside the solar system—as the project’s prime data collection was ending, in 2012. She was sitting next to Tarter, who, at a certain point, looked down at the table and near-whispered, to no one but herself, “We didn’t find anything.”

    Batalha turned her head to look at Tarter, struck by the depth of emotion. “That feeling—it was just so tangible,” she says. “She announced her retirement two weeks later. Clearly, she knew that she was on the verge of retiring. She was expressing that feeling of all those years of work not realizing that goal.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:18 pm on October 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Jill Tarter, Searching for Extraterrestrial Contact   

    From AAAS: “Searching for Extraterrestrial Contact” 



    21 September 2016
    Nathan Gilles

    Dr.Jill Taeter, SETI Institute

    Growing up in New York City, 8-year-old Jill Tarter had never experienced dark like it. She was in Florida. She had traveled to the Sunshine State only to experience a true absence of light, but the sky wasn’t dark at all. It was filled with bright, shining stars. As she walked along the beach with her father, the specks of flickering illumination feeding her imagination, Tarter experienced an insight that would define the rest of her life.

    Gazing upward, she asked herself: What if, revolving around one of those stars, was a planet much like Earth? And what if, on that planet there was a beach where a young creature walked with her father, watching the stars from her own galactic neighborhood? And what if, as this creature gazed and wondered, she glimpsed the light of a distant star around which a small planet revolved on which there was a beach where Tarter walked with her father, looking up and wondered: What if we’re not alone?

    “That became my worldview; that was just my mindset for as long as I can remember,” Tarter reflected.

    An AAAS Fellow since 2002, Tarter has spent the majority of her career in astronomy transmuting the wonder she felt on that beach into a systematic search for intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy as head of the research arm of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, better known as the SETI Institute.

    Beloved by many and disliked by others, the SETI Institute has for decades aimed radio telescopes at the sky in an effort to tease out potential signals of extraterrestrial origin from the cosmic noise of space. What became the SETI Institute began as independent scientific searches, eventually falling under a series of NASA programs until, in the mid-1990s, U.S. lawmakers cut the programs’ funding.

    However, the search endured. Tarter and other researchers associated with NASA’s SETI work created the nonprofit SETI Institute a decade earlier as a way to continue their search if public funding dissolved. When it did, Tarter and the Institute turned to private donations, mostly from Silicon Valley luminaries, such as Bill Hewlett and David Packard of Hewlett-Packard. During this time, Tarter became the most recognizable face of SETI, pitching the project’s science and philosophy to private philanthropists while honing SETI’s search techniques through overseeing the construction of new hardware and new computer algorithms. Her tenacity even earned her a place in pop culture history, when in 1981, her friend and colleague Carl Sagan based the protagonist of his science fiction novel Contact on her. The book was later made into a movie in 1997 staring Jodie Foster.

    “When Carl sent me a pre-publication copy of the book, I was flummoxed. There was so much in that character that was in common with my life,” said Tarter.

    A look at Tarter’s career shows the accolade from the iconoclastic Sagan was well-deserved.

    While her childhood experience on that Florida beach stuck with her into early adulthood, Tarter nonetheless began her career in science with an aspiration that was a little closer to home: “I wanted to go to the moon,” said Tarter.

    However, in the early 1960s, when she started her undergraduate program in engineering, science and engineering, let alone becoming an astronaut, were culturally off-limits for most women. So much so that Tarter found herself in the awkward position of being the only woman in a class of some 300 students. Nonetheless she excelled, and soon she began to stretch beyond engineering to astronomy, eventually earning her Ph.D. in the subject. It was around this time that she first waded into scientific controversy.

    In the mid-1970s, it was believed that there existed approximately 10 percent more mass in the Milky Way than could be accounted for by observations. Tarter proposed that some of this missing mass was due to a type of star that hadn’t yet been found. She believed these stars would not be massive enough to fuse hydrogen into helium, as our sun does. This meant they would be cool and, for all practical purposes, invisible to our instruments. She called these strange stars Brown Dwarfs.

    When she first proposed Brown Dwarfs, Tarter had a hard time convincing scientific publications that these small, cool stars existed. Meanwhile, the amount of missing mass grew in calculations, eventually being pinned largely on mysterious dark matter. Nonetheless, the idea of Brown Dwarfs caught on, and the first of what would be many Brown Dwarfs was discovered in the mid-1990s. Tarter was vindicated.

    “That was a lot of fun. That was a very enjoyable time,” said Tarter of the discovery.

    Tarter has yet to be vindicated in her search for extraterrestrial intelligence, but she hasn’t given up hope. Since SETI investigations began in the 1960s, only a miniscule portion of the night sky has been surveyed—the equivalent, by Tarter’s calculations, of taking a single glass of water from the world’s oceans. What’s more, as Tarter knows, searching for signals in space is complicated. Space as viewed through a radio telescope is a noisy place. Then there’s the fact that information-laden signals tend to look like noise at first glance. Add to this the multiple frequencies that could be used for broadcasting, the fact that all the sources of broadcast are in constant motion, and, most important, time—the time it takes for complex life to evolve, technological civilizations to develop, and the cosmic speed limit that is the speed of light—and you find yourself with a complex engineering problem.

    “After millennia of asking priests and philosophers what we should believe, suddenly we engineers and scientists have tools, telescopes and computers, to actually figure out what is,” said Tarter.

    Tarter’s first opportunity to apply her skills to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence came in the late 1970s. A colleague of hers wanted to do a search by piggybacking on a radio telescope, and he needed a computer programmer. Tarter just happened to be one of the few people who could program the computer he was using. The researchers’ plan was simple: Take recordings from the radio telescope using magnetic tape, then search the recordings using a computer algorithm programmed by Tarter. This is essentially how SETI still works.

    “Only we’ve now gone from 100 channels to 100 million channels. That’s been the progress that computing power has allowed us to achieve,” said Tarter.

    SETI, like other data-heavy endeavors, has benefited from the recent explosion in computing. This has allowed SETI to search for more complex and seemingly noisier signals. SETI’s hardware has also significantly improved, most notably on projects like the Allen Telescope Array, named after funder and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

    Still, Tarter is realistic. Even with the best hardware and software there could be a lot of searching before we get pinged with a message from the stars, if one shows up at all. That’s because for two civilizations to talk they not only need to be close enough in space to discover one another but also close enough in the long history of our galaxy to overlap. But if they do overlap, that raises the possibility that technological civilizations might be sustainable in cosmic time, raising the further possibility that young civilization like ours could one day overcome the ecological and social upheavals our technologies have produced. This, says Tarter, as much as answering the question she first asked walking along that Florida beach is what should feed our collective imaginations.

    “If technologies pop up around the universe frequently, but in very short time they do themselves in or turn themselves off, then you are never going to get two technological civilizations that are coeval. But, if we know someone else has succeeded, that could be the motivation we need to help us find the solution to the problems that we’re facing,” said Tarter.

    See the full article here .

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

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  • richardmitnick 5:35 pm on January 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Jill Tarter, ,   

    From GIZMODO: “How Should We Look For Aliens?” 

    GIZMODO bloc


    Mika McKinnon

    The search for extraterrestrial life is the ultimate hybrid of creativity and science, the quest to discover something we can’t even describe yet. Jill Tarter embodies that creativity in her work with the SETI Institute, and is the subject of a special video released today.

    WeTransfer’s Creative Class is an online series highlighting creative people doing cool things in the world. This season, the series features SETI Institute astronomer Jill Tarter, the real-life inspiration for Carl Sagan’s Dr. Ellie Arroway in Contact.

    Tarter chatted with Gizmodo about the role of creativity in the search for intelligent aliens, exclaiming, “You have to try to think creative[ly]about how do you discover what you really can’t imagine!”

    SETI Jill Tarter
    Jill Tarter, real-life alien-hunting astronomer

    “I like to say we’re looking for photons, but maybe it’s zeta rays that the advanced technologies of the universe are using to communicate,” Tarter offered as an analogy. “I don’t know what a zeta ray is because we haven’t invented it yet. We don’t understand that physics yet. Maybe that’s in our future.”

    We haven’t found aliens yet, so we need to keep expanding the very way that we search. “How do you look at the universe in new ways that will allow you to find things you that you didn’t imagine?” Tarter said. “[Astronomer Martin Harwit] made this case for essentially venture investing in the astronomical sciences because every time you open up a new observation space, we found something we didn’t expect!”

    Astronomy is full of such examples. Tarter recounts the iconic discovery of pulsars that started in 1965-66, when a team of graduate students built a new type of radio telescope:

    Jocelyn Bell and her colleagues spent the summer nailing up kilometers of wire and fence posts to make a low-frequency detector. They made it for a very scientific goal, but yet when Jocelyn was looking at the data, she found these little bits scruff. She was curious enough and systematic enough to follow up on them.

    Suddenly, wow! There are radio beacons out there more precise than any clock we’ve built. There are entire stars, neutron stars, that are spinning around several times a second. Unbelievable! They found it because they had a new tool. They had a different way of looking at the universe.

    This happens again and again and again. Every time we invent a new tool, discoveries follow. “I think being creative, building new ways to look at the universe, can lead to amazing results.” Tarter said. “You don’t do that if you think, ‘Well, I’m going to do today what I did yesterday.’”

    Our conversation with Tarter was so interesting and so long that we couldn’t transcribe it all in just one night. Instead, check out her Creative Class special here.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 3:54 pm on September 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From SETI Institute: “Jill Tarter Elected President of California Academy of Sciences” 

    SETI Institute

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    Jill Tarter

    She’s a renowned SETI researcher, and member of the SETI Institute’s Board of Trustees. And now Jill Tarter has been selected to be the new president of San Francisco’s prestigious California Academy of Sciences.

    Jill was pivotal to the creation of the SETI Institute in 1984; The NASA SETI program of which she was a part became the Institute’s first project. In 1998, she was appointed to the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research, and more recently Tarter became officially affiliated with the California Academy’s Board of Trustees.

    “In the eight years that I’ve been a Scientist Trustee at the Academy, I’ve found a number of different ways that that organization and the SETI Institute could help each other on projects,” Tarter says. “After all, we have overlapping interests regarding life, both here on Earth and beyond. And both organizations have a passion for sharing what they know with the world.”

    Tarter’s efforts in the SETI enterprise are legendary, and include the initiative for constructing the Allen Telescope Array [ATA], the only radio telescope deliberately designed for searching for signals due to extraterrestrial transmitters.

    Allen Telescope Array

    An informed and energetic champion of the search for company in the cosmos, she can be frequently seen explaining the science behind this enterprise on television and in print. She has also been identified as the prototype for the Ellie Arroway character in the Carl Sagan novel, Contact.

    A winner of many awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Aerospace, Tarter has a long-standing interest in education and in promoting a better understanding of science by the public. She gives several dozen talks each year.

    “As I assume the role of President of the Academy and continue my service on the SETI Institute Board of Trustees, I look forward to finding or creating many more ways we can work together,” Tarter notes.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 2:16 pm on December 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SKA: “SKA talk – Jill Tarter – The SKA in the world of 2050” 

    SKA Square Kilometer Array


    Live from Jodrell Bank Observatory, Dr. Jill Tarter from SETI is the final keynote speaker concluding a day-long workshop on the wider benefits of the SKA in society. Dr. Tarter will present her vision of the SKA’s impact and role in tomorrow’s society, in 2050.

    Jill Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for that institution. Tarter received her Bachelor of Engineering Physics Degree with Distinction from Cornell University and her Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley.

    She has spent the majority of her professional career attempting to answer the old human question “Are we alone?” by searching for evidence of technological civilizations beyond Earth. She served as Project Scientist for NASA’s SETI program, the High Resolution Microwave Survey and has conducted numerous observational programs at radio observatories worldwide.

    She is a Fellow of the AAAS, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Explorers Club, she was named one of the Time 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2004, and one of the Time 25 in Space in 2012, received a TED prize in 2009, two public service awards from NASA, multiple awards for communicating science to the public, and has been honored as a woman in technology.

    She is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at USC, Asteroid 74824 Tarter (1999 TJ16) has been named in her honor. She is the Jansky Lecturer in 2014.
    Since the termination of funding for NASA’s SETI program in 1993, she has served in a leadership role to design and build the Allen Telescope Array and to secure private funding to continue the exploratory science of SETI. Many people are now familiar with her work as portrayed by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact.

    See the full article here.

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    About SKA

    The Square Kilometre Array will be the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The total collecting area will be approximately one square kilometre giving 50 times the sensitivity, and 10 000 times the survey speed, of the best current-day telescopes. The SKA will be built in Southern Africa and in Australia. Thousands of receptors will extend to distances of 3 000 km from the central regions. The SKA will address fundamental unanswered questions about our Universe including how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, how dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the Universe, the role of magnetism in the cosmos, the nature of gravity, and the search for life beyond Earth. Construction of phase one of the SKA is scheduled to start in 2016. The SKA Organisation, with its headquarters at Jodrell Bank Observatory, near Manchester, UK, was established in December 2011 as a not-for-profit company in order to formalise relationships between the international partners and centralise the leadership of the project.

  • richardmitnick 4:15 pm on July 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Jill Tarter of SETI Institute at TED 2009 

    SETI Institute

    Jill Tarter at TED 2009. ‘Nuff said.

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