JILL C. TARTER: SETI SEARCHER
In a photograph hanging outside her office, Jill C. Tarter stands a head taller than Jodie Foster, the actress who played an idealistic young radio astronomer named Ellie Arroway in the film Contact. Tarter was not the model for the driven researcher at the center of Carl Sagan's book of the same name, although she understands why people often make that assumption. In fact, she herself did so after reading the page proofs that Sagan had sent her in 1985. After all, both she and Arroway were only children whose fathers encouraged their interest in science and who died when they were still young girls. And both staked their lives and careers on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), no matter how long the odds of detecting an otherworldly sign. But no, Tarter says, the character is actually Sagan himself--they all just share the same passion.
In her position as director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., Tarter has recently focused on developing new technology for observing radio signals from the universe. The concept, first presented in the 1950s, is that a technologically advanced civilization will leak radio signals. Some may even be transmitting purposefully.
This article was originally published with the title An Ear to the Stars.