After 35 years of searching the skies for signs of intelligence beyond Earth, astronomer Jill Tarter is stepping down as the director of the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research, the organization’s officials announced today (May 22, 2012).
EarthSky interview: Jill Tarter contemplates SETI’s 50-year search for extraterrestrial life
But Tarter, the inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character Ellie Arroway in the movie “Contact,” will continue to devote herself to the search for E.T. She’s shifting into a full-time fundraising role for the SETI Institute, which was forced to shut down a set of alien-hunting radio telescopes for more than seven months in 2011 due to budget shortfalls.
Tarter, 68, signed on to the NASA SETI program in the 1970s when a small group of NASA researchers were developing novel equipment and strategies to make systematic radio SETI observations. Since the demise of that program by Congressional fiat in 1993, she has led the efforts at the non-profit SETI Institute to continue the work. Tarter spearheaded a decade-long program, dubbed Project Phoenix, that used large antennas in Australia, Puerto Rico and West Virginia to examine approximately one thousand nearby star systems over an unprecedented wide range of radio frequencies.
SETI Institute Physicist Gerry Harp will succeed Tarter as Director of Center for SETI Research.
Bottom line: Astronomer Jill Tarter is stepping down as the director of the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research, the organization announced on May 22, 2012.