“A Cosmic Perspective: Searching for Aliens, Finding Ourselves” with Jill Tarter (SETI Institute, California, USA)

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 new 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 ever 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. Evidence for extraterrestrial life may turn out to be ambiguous, as illustrated by the recent debate over the claim of Phosphine in the clouds of Venus, and whether this might imply biology. Evidence for technosignatures could be less ambiguous. There is a vast amount of other potentially-habitable real estate to explore beyond our solar system, and there are many plans to do just that. The 21st century will be the century in which we will find some answers. 
As we look up and look out, we are forced to see ourselves from a cosmic perspective; a perspecive 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.  
Jill Tarter is the emeritus Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. As a founding member of the SETI institute, and as its director for SETI Research between 1999-2012, she has played a central role in securing private investment to advance SETI science after NASA’s SETI program was terminated in 1993. She continues to do so as a member of the management board for the Allen Telescope Array (ATA). Throughout her distinguished career – which began with a Bachelor of Engineering Physics from Cornell and a PhD degree from UC Berkley – Jill Tarter’s work in astronomy and astrobiology has been recognized by many awards, e.g.: two Public Service Medals from NASA, the Lifetime Achievement Award by Women in Aerospace (1989), the Adler Planetarium Women in Space Science Award (2003), the Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization (2005), the TED Prize (2009) and the 2014 Jansky Lectureship. She was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2002, Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society in 2020, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021. In 2004 Time Magazine named her one of the Time 100 most influential people in the world, and in 2012 one of the Time 25 most influential people in space.

Webinar was recorded on February 17, 2022