Astrobiologist and Astronomer Jill Tarter at the Berkeley Forum: Technosignatures: What Are They, And How Might We Find them?

Lecture | September 16 | 6-7 p.m. | 125 Morrison Hall

 Jill Tarter

 The Berkeley Forum

Arthur C. Clarke's third law states that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Since 1960, SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) researchers have been searching for that ‘magic’ in the form of radio, and now optical, electromagnetic signals. These searches need to continue and grow utilizing the exponentially increasing capabilities of computing, but within the SETI field, we’ve always reserved the right to get smarter. In 2014, Karl Schroeder (Canadian futurist and science fiction author) suggested a variant of the Third Law; Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Nature. What opportunities does this increased scope of the Third Law offer to our own 21 st century search for life beyond Earth? As we design and implement the next generations of ground and space based observatories, some of whose primary goals are the imaging of exoplanets and the spectroscopic analysis of their atmospheres, we should consider how we might distinguish between the byproducts of microbes and mathematicians. We are vigorously discussing/debating the right instruments to develop and fly to find biosignatures – how can we find the technosignatures of the mathematicians?

Speaker Bio:

Jill Tarter is an astronomer and pioneer in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and the cofounder and retired director of the SETI Institute. She received her Bachelor of Engineering Physics Degree with Distinction from Cornell University and her Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley, during which she coined the term “Brown Dwarf.” She has spent the majority of her professional career attempting to answer the old human question “Are we alone?” by searching for evidence of technological civilizations beyond Earth. She served as Project Scientist for NASA’s SETI program, the High Resolution Microwave Survey and has conducted numerous observational programs at radio observatories worldwide. She is a Fellow of the AAAS, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Explorers Club, she was named one of the Time 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2004, and one of the Time 25 in Space in 2012, received a TED prize in 2009, two public service awards from NASA, multiple awards for communicating science to the public, and has been honored as a woman in technology. She served as President of the California Academy of Sciences 2015-16. Asteroid 74824 Tarter (1999 TJ16) has been named in her honor. In 2018 she was recognized with the Maria Mitchell Women in Science Award and the Sir Arthur Clarke Innovator’s Award. Since the termination of funding for NASA’s SETI program in 1993, she has served in a leadership role to design and build the Allen Telescope Array and to secure private funding to continue the exploratory science of SETI. Dr. Tarter was also the primary inspiration for Ellie Arroway, the protagonist in the Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel Contact, and played by Jodie Foster in the 1997 movie rendition of the book.