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Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

Jill Tarter at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, one of the radio telescopes she has used in her hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence. (Photo Above) As a child in the 1950s, Jill Tarter would gaze at the stars and wonder, “Are we alone?” That monumental question has driven the astronomer's lifelong quest to find alien life in the Milky Way. In Making Contact, science writer Sarah Scoles interweaves a profile of Tarter with the tumultuous, decades-long history of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, where Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver chair. Scoles argues that, without Tarter, telescopes and observing programmes focused on SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence), such as the Allen Telescope Array and Breakthrough Listen, might not be around today. Yet hers may be a quixotic mission, having failed to receive a single definitive signal so far. The book's title references Carl Sagan's best-selling 1985 novel, Contact (Simon & Schuster), adapted into the 1997 film directed by Robert Zemeckis. In them, astronomer Ellie Arroway, partly based on Tarter, succeeds in finding an alien signal. Scoles, inspired by Contact, quotes from it: “The Universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

Read More: Nature

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