The existence of alien life is one of the most pressing questions in science. It has important implications for humanity far beyond astronomy and the future; we would have to revisit subjects from biology to philosophy and look at them anew. According to astronomer Dr Jill Tarter, we are likely to find aliens by the year 2100.
She made this claim during a talk titled “A Cosmic Perspective: Searching for Aliens, Finding Ourselves" at Florida Tech recently. She’s planning to give 75 more of these addresses this year with the aim to raise funds to upgrade the Allen Telescope Array.
“I think that in this century we are going to be finding life beyond Earth," Tarter told the audience, as reported by Rick Neale in Florida Today.
"We can discover it: We can find biomarkers on planets or moons of our solar system. We can find artifacts in the solar system as we explore. We can look for remote biosignatures in the atmospheres of distant exoplanets. Or, perhaps we can detect the work product of technological civilizations: technosignatures."
Dr Tarter is the Bernard M. Oliver Chair at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – or SETI – Institute, and has spent a good chunk of her impressive career scanning the sky for radio waves in the hope of catching a signal that has no natural origin. Her work was the inspiration behind the character of Dr Ellie Arroway, portrayed by Jodie Foster, in the movie Contact.
NASA’s SETI program was only funded until 1993 but the SETI Institute has carried on its work thanks to private funding. The Allen Telescope Array has been used in recent years to study about 20,000 nearby stars, in the hope of finding artificial signals. The planned upgrade will significantly improve the facility.
"We've designed a second generation of fantastic feeds and receivers that make it much more sensitive. So we're trying to fundraise to get those on the telescope. We have about half of them done," Tarter explained. "For the SETI Institute, what we'd really love to do is develop an endowment. Because this really is a project that may have to be multi-generational."
This is not the only project the Institute is cooking up. They hope to launch a "Laser SETI" program that will look at the sky for flashes of light from potential laser-based communication approaches.
"We can build a series of 96 cameras, spread around 12 sites around the globe, working in the optical and infrared. We will literally be able to look up at all of the sky, all of the time to see if there are any bright flashes. To see if any other phenomenon, like fast radio bursts, have an optical component. I'm really excited about it," Tarter said.
[H/T: Florida Today]