SETI Astronomer Jill Tarter Says Humans Will Discover Aliens by 2100—Here's Why the Inspiration for 'Contact' Is So Convinced
Imagine being NASA scientist Jill Tarter.
Imagine dedicating yourself to the study of the stars, and to trying to find alien life somewhere out in the cosmos. Imagine then that in the late '90s, a movie studio decides to turn your life's story into a movie starring Jodie Foster.
Imagine then that, for some reason, the movie ends up being a work of complete fiction.
In addition to being the inspiration for 1997's Contact, with all its sci-fi gobbledygook, Jill Tarter is the research chair for NASA's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program. After a lifetime of investigating the cosmos and trying to find proof of advanced alien life somewhere among the stars, Tarter is still convinced that, sooner rather than later, our species will positively identify a technologically capable extraterrestrial species.
Speaking at the Florida Institute of Technology's recent Cross Cultural Management summit, Tarter said that humanity should manage to make contact with aliens within the next 80 years. It's simply a numbers game—with so many stars in our galaxy, there must be life out there somewhere. It just might take us a little while to spot it because our corner of the Milky Way is relatively sparse.
According to Tarter, there are two kinds of life signs that we ought to keep our eyes open for. The first are biomarkers; indications from a planet's atmosphere that might suggest that creatures live on its surface.
Other scientists have already suggested some biomarkers that humanity should be keeping an eye out for, such as an oxygen-rich environment, or even the presence of viruses within a planet's atmosphere.
Alternatively, there's the kind of lifesigns that Jodie Foster's character goes looking for in Contact; technosignatures, or indicators of an alien race that's capable of broadcast communication and space flight.
Again, there are various different technosignatures that we could spot. The obvious Holy Grail for this kind of research would be radio communication signals, but it's also possible that we'll be able to spot aliens by glimpsing at artificial structures in a planet's orbit, such as satellites or even just garden variety space junk.
Whatever form alien proof might take, Tarter has a plan to find it. The scientist is currently raising money for a SETI initiative to set up a series of optical and infrared cameras to constantly film the night's sky in all directions around the Earth, so that we can potentially catch a glimpse of any flash of light that might be created by distant aliens.
According to Tarter:
It remains to be seen whether Tarter's new plan will bear fruit, but if her work does lead to the discovery of aliens, it'll make her true story far more interesting than anything that could be invented for a fictional movie like Contact.