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Seeking a Message from Space: SETI’s Search for Extraterrestrial Life with Dr. Jill Tarter (Episode #128)

Dr. Lynda sits down with Dr. Jill Tarter to talk about SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), Jill’s 40 year journey, pioneering that field as a female scientist, and how positive a more “cosmic perspective” could be in our lives and our shared futures. 

Episode Highlights


About Our Guest:

Dr. Jill Cornell Tarter is the American astronomer best known for her work as the director of the globally renowned SETI Institute, the organization spearheading the Search for Extraterrestrial Life.   

You might have heard of the SETI because it is our planet’s most widely known effort to Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence… right here in our own galaxy and beyond. 

SETI is an almost 40 year effort—using vast arrays of various kinds of telescopes—aimed at discovering evidence of beings on other planets that are at least our own technological level.

In this interview, Dr. Tarter discusses her very interesting life journey. So remarkable is that story that Jill’s life and work at the SETI institute were the subjects of the bestselling book by Carl Sagan called CONTACT and the movie starring Jodi Foster by the same name.    

In part of our conversation, Jill points out why we are in our “technological infancy” and how the search for intelligence in the universe can help us envision a future where we get past all the division and chaos in our world and survive on a thriving planet.

She also gives us context around how likely it is that we will find intelligent life among the stars.

Jill has recently retired, but she was one of the two original inaugural officers of the SETI Institute when it began in 1985, so she is the best person to share with us the wonders she’s seen over the scope of time and why having a more “cosmic perspective” can help us live with less friction and fear. 

Among her numerous distinguished awards and recognitions are.. 

  • Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Aerospace, 
  • Two Public Service Medals from NASA, 
  • And the Tesla Award of Technology at the Telluride Tech Festival.

In 2004, Time Magazine named Jill one of the Time 100 Most Influential People in the Century

In 2009, she won the TED Prize, which empowered Jill and her team to take SETI research to an entirely new and broader level.

And we are here to talk to her today all about the insights that generated those distinctions and those that followed thereafter.

Resources Mentioned:

Show Notes

[00:00 – 03:00 ] OPENING

[03:01 – 09:45]

  • The search for extraterrestrial intelligence
  • Stars have the same constant temperature

[09:46 – 15:30]

  • Desert varnish
  • Collaboration in the search for life in other worlds
  • Possibility of life in inhospitable environments

[15:31 – 25:10]

  • Looking at the stars in the sky as a child
  • Being the only female in a class of engineering students
  • Locking the dorms for the female students at night
  • You can do anything you want if you’re willing to work hard enough
  • Learning “carpe diem” very early in life

[25:11 – 33:15]

  • Defining success in a way that’s meaningful to you
  • The Drake equation

[33:16 – 38:15]

  • Looking for life beyond Earth using more standard academic research
  • New equipment and telescopes show us something that we didn’t expect at all

[38:16 – 41:30 ]

  • A layman’s explanation of the Drake equation
  • It’s not the longevity of the engineers but it’s how long the technology are used

[41:31 – 48:00]

  • The best-case scenario on finding extraterrestrial life 
  • Appreciate how vast the universe we inhabit is
  • Adapting a cosmic context in the way we view the world

[48:01 – 48:45] CLOSING 

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