Famed US alien seeker shifts gaze back to Earth

May 22, 2012 by Glenn Chapman
After decades spent scanning the heavens for signs of life elsewhere in the cosmos, astronomer Jill Tarter, pictured here in 2011, is stepping back, and letting a colleague take charge of the quest.

After decades spent scanning the heavens for signs of life elsewhere in the cosmos, astronomer Jill Tarter is stepping back, and letting a colleague take charge of the quest.

Tarter, whose alien-seeking efforts inspired the Hollywood film "Contact," announced Tuesday that she is stepping down as director of the nonprofit to focus on raising money to keep the effort going.

The institute, its name an acronym for "," scours space for or other signals.

With help from a TED Prize (for technology, entertainment and design) that she won in 2009, a setilive.org website launched in February as a venue for amateurs to scrutinize patches of looking for anomalies worth investigating further.

"We are trying to get to help us look through frequencies crowded with our own communications to filter out our own and see if anything is left over that might be coming from someone else's technology," Tarter said.

More than 58,000 people have signed up website and millions of signals have been scrutinizes and classified, according to counters at the website.

SETI was testing improvements to setilive.org that would let professional scientists follow up on people's observations in real time, chasing signals while trails are fresh and telescopes still on targets.

"This is the first time anybody has tried to do this work in real time," Tarter said. "It is a real challenge."

The website emphasizes sifting through radio bands crowded with human-generated transmissions, based on reasoning that aliens might have noticed the chatter and thought to send messages back along the same channels.

Tarter's career will be celebrated at the second annual SETIcon gathering of scientists, artists, and entertainers in the heart of the weekend of June 22.

Speakers at a gala event planned for Tarter are to include astronaut Mae Jemison; "Star Trek: Voyager" television series actor Robert Picardo; and the author of the Drake equation for estimating the number of detectable alien civilizations in the Milky Way.

Tarter, 68, joined the NASA SETI program in the 1970s as part of a small team of researchers developing ways to look for alien signals in radio waves.

She has championed the effort at the SETI Institute since the plug was pulled on the NASA program in 1993.

Tarter is encouraged by word that NASA's Kepler telescope discovered thousands of new planetary systems.

"It is exciting after all this time to know where to look," Tarter told AFP.

"We are all holding our breath for Earth 2.0, an Earthlike planet," she continued. "Everyone has this feeling it is just around the corner; you can almost taste it."

Planet hunters will be key presenters at SETIcon, details of which are available online at seticon.com.

Tickets to the event range from $65 for a keynote brunch to $1,000 for a "Cosmic VIP" pass promising prime access to all aspects of the three-day gathering. The event raises funds for SETI's work.

Gerry Harp will take over as director of SETI Institute.

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MrGrynch
1.7 / 5 (6) May 22, 2012
Searching for radio signals or laser pulses is a waste of money. The only hope we have of detecting alien radio broadcasts would be if they were relatively local, and we would have detected those by now. I would look for modulated neutrino pulses or graviton pulses. They would have the benefit of being able to be line of sight yet maintain cohesion as they pass through any matter in its path. Of course we barely have the ability to detect neutrino pulses at all and no ability yet to detect gravitons.
LariAnn
2.6 / 5 (5) May 22, 2012
Depends on what kind of civilization you are looking for. If you want to find one advanced enough to use neutrino pulses and gravitons to communicate, then you better be that advanced yourself or you won't get the message. IMHO, advanced civilizations will still remember when they used radio waves, etc. for communication, so if they are looking for pre-pubescent civilizations, they would send out such signals rather than their advanced communicaton signals which would be reserved fro races as advanced as they are.
MrGrynch
1.8 / 5 (5) May 22, 2012
Yes, but the point is that any radio signal generated by any civilization has such an infinitesimal chance of being detectable over background noise from the star system it originate from, that it is folly to expect to receive a coherent signal. As I said, unless it is very close, in which case we would have detected it already. Lasers would have to be pointed either right at us, or we would have to pass within its path to have any hope of detecting it. BTW we are starting to develop more sophisticated neutrino generation/detection technologies. Just recently a successful communication through the planet was made by a group of scientists, so the alien civilization doesn't necessarily need to be too far advanced
SteveL
5 / 5 (2) May 22, 2012
In my opinion one of the best bits of technology to come out of the SETI endeavour was Berkley's distributed computing (BOINC) utility that was initially developed for SETI. Networked computing is an incredibly powerful tool that allows the public to assist with research by donating home computer computational capacity.

I volunteered my computer to SETI for a few days several years ago, before I realized that the survival of humanity would be improved by not finding signs of alien life. Now my systems work on other distributed computing projects.
Jayded
1 / 5 (1) May 22, 2012
@SteveL - before I realized that the survival of humanity would be improved by not finding signs of alien life - explain please
Russkiycremepuff
1.6 / 5 (7) May 22, 2012
Could it be that SteveL has seen the movie, "War of the Worlds" and understood its message as meaning that if Xtraterrestrials find out that we live on this planet, they might come here to harvest us or to rule over us? Yes, that may be a possibility as possibilities go. I watched the movie and was impressed by the way the civilians went to their deaths so meek and mild, waiting for the military to arrive. The odd thing is that civilians have traditionally gone to their deaths in the same way anyway, except that it was not Xtraterrestrials killing them. I tend to learn much from the imaginings of men who write great novels about the many ways humans can be exterminated without so much as a protest.
I have decided that for Xtraterrestrials to leave their home planet, they would either be seeking adventure and exploration, or they will need to find a new home. And if they like OUR home, they may have to destroy us first as though we are vermin.
Russkiycremepuff
2 / 5 (8) May 22, 2012
I am certain that there are others who feel as I do, and that we have already given away our secret existence and location for those who would seek new planet like ours. I try to contain my excitement for possibility of discovering intelligent life forms, or even non-intelligent. But there is always in back of my mind that earth may become killing fields to those who are unconcerned for our welfare, and will not even regard us as better than fruit flies that our scientists examine under microscope.
They may already be here, even while we attempt to find them "out there".
Blakut
not rated yet May 22, 2012
Unless we're dealing with an advanced civilization of space whales living on a water planet, using sound for communication. We'll never get radio waves from them.
Telekinetic
2 / 5 (4) May 22, 2012
In a previous PhysOrg piece:"Scientists suggest protocol for messaging to aliens", Feb.4th,2011, I quoted a news item about military personnel with top level security clearance who guarded nuclear missile silos.:
"I believe that the security services of both the United States and the United Kingdom have attempted both then and now to subvert the significance of what occurred at RAF Bentwaters by the use of well-practised methods of disinformation."
The six former U.S. Air Force officers and one former enlisted man, are to present declassified information which they claim backs up their findings. They have witness testimony from 120 former or retired military personnel which points to alien intervention at nuclear sites in the U.S. as recently as 2003.
They will urge the authorities to confirm that alien beings have long been visiting Earth."
These witnesses had the highest level of responsibility and security clearance. The evidence is already here and is credible.
Russkiycremepuff
1.7 / 5 (6) May 22, 2012
@Telekinetic
There are not enough credible whistle blowing in the area of Xtraterrestrials occupying the earth or just visiting for whatever reasons. Governments wish to avoid the panic and fright that such news might bring. It is the weak-minded who could not handle it. And there are too many of them. Disinformation and Misinformation are the two biggest forms of the lies for pretending nothing is wrong. Russia knows and understands about the Xtraterrestrials, but must cooperate with the Americans and British to keep the deep dark secret that everyone knows already. It is all the game and we are asked to play along with it.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (2) May 22, 2012
@CCCPuff

The Russian missile silos were also visited. I wonder how government personnel, who, on the bottom, are just people who must live with this incredible secret lest they be punished for the betrayal of "national security", which leads us to determining the level of government corruption by the information it withholds from its citizens. A mass hysteria of secrecy pervades all government, presuming that the citizens are children needing protection from themselves. That rends all governments corrupt.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (2) May 23, 2012
This is not Oddjob's bowler!

http://now.msn.co...ow_gdesk
Russkiycremepuff
1 / 5 (4) May 23, 2012
But it does look like white hat. I played it many times from 1 second to 10 second mark. At the first I thought maybe it was something within the airplane cabin that was moving and reflected on inside of window. I then showed video to one of my roommates who is UFO buff. She also said that it could be just reflection on window of something inside plane and that she has seen many pictures and videos that were frauds. But she also said that it could be genuine UFO because of the size difference as it moves from lower elevation up toward level of airplane. She said that as it gets bigger, it is indication of getting closer to plane and could indicate that is was outside of plane. She told me to watch out for the hoax people who want attention.
I cannot make judgement on your video since I do not have the experience my roommate has. She is more knowledgable.