WIP: "A Cosmic Perspective: Searching for Aliens, Finding Ourselves"

Dr. Jill Tarter (Bernard Oliver Chair for Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute)
| Penn Museum, Harrison Auditorium
University of Pennsylvania

Are we alone? Humans have been asking this question throughout history. We want to know where we came from, how we fit into the cosmos, and where we are going. We want to know whether there is life beyond the Earth and whether any of it is intelligent.  

Since the middle of the twentieth century, we have had tools that permit us to embark on a scientific exploration to try to answer this old question.  We no longer have to ask the priests and philosophers what we should believe about extraterrestrial life; we can explore and discover what’s actually out there. Our tools are getting even better.  We have discovered extremophiles in the most unexpected places on this planet and we have discovered that there really are far more planets than stars out there.  We haven’t yet found life beyond Earth yet, but there is a vast amount of potentially-habitable real estate to explore. The 21st century will be the century in which we will find some answers, this will be our century. 

As we look up and look out, we are forced to see ourselves from a cosmic perspective; a perspective that shows us as all the same, all Earthlings. This perspective is fundamental to finding a way to sustain life on Earth for the long future.  

Dr. Tarter has served as the Project Scientist for NASA’s SETI program, the High-Resolution Microwave Survey, and has conducted numerous observational programs at radio observatories worldwide. Among her numerous honors, she has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Aerospace, two Public Service Medals from NASA, Chabot Observatory’s Person of the Year award (1997), Women of Achievement Award in the Science and Technology category by the Women’s Fund and the San Jose Mercury News (1998), and the Tesla Award of Technology at the Telluride Tech Festival (2001). She was elected an AAAS Fellow in 2002 and a California Academy of Sciences Fellow in 2003. Among the public, she is perhaps best known for having inspired the character played by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact. The timing of the lecture is fortuitous, as October 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Contact. 

This event is made possible by a grant from the Fund to Encourage Women (FEW) of the Trustees’ Council to Encourage Women.