Today (August 2) at 12:30 pm, Academy Fellow Jill Tarter will be speaking on the museum floor as part of our weekly “Chat with an Academy Scientist” program. She is the real-life inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the 1997 film Contact. If you can’t make it to the Academy today, don’t fret—watch the program live or after the fact on our Ustream channel.
Jill recently announced that she is stepping down as director of the Center for SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) at NASA Ames Research Center. Fortunately, she will remain active as a scientist in the center.
It’s a labor of patience and determination. She and her colleagues are searching for what many feel must be “out there,” which is life of some kind, extra-terrestrial life. Whether it is life like us is entirely a matter of speculation. After all, life on Earth was green slime long before it evolved to the point when it started chattering on cellphones. But, to me at least, it just seems intuitive that with all the planets in the Universe, surely more than one harbors life of some kind.
Earthlings tend to think that our spaceship is special. Earth IS special, of course. It’s home for all of us, and we don’t have anywhere else to go. If we trash our neighborhood, our pale blue dot, we will have big problems.
All these thoughts remind me of the famous line from Casablanca, said by Rick (Bogie) of Ilse (Ingrid Bergman): “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
Maybe life is like that, and we just happen to live in the right joint. Then again, maybe “they” have been watching already but decided to go visit someplace else.
Science is all about wondering, exploring, and (in time) understanding. Searching for extra-terrestrial life is wondering of the most profound sort. Personally, I take particular delight that one of OUR Academy family has helped to lead the search.
I admire Jill for it, given what may be the odds. Join me in hoping that a really regular and distinctive signal will be heard sometime soon. It will be the most significant beep ever heard in human history. Nothing, nothing at all, will be the same after it is detected. What fun it will be. What good fortune it would be to live at the time of such a discovery. Even more fun to make the discovery. Go Jill and colleagues. Please keep listening.