Cool Jobs: Alien Hunter, Jill Tarter | Summary and Q&A

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March 6, 2015
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World Science Festival
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Cool Jobs: Alien Hunter, Jill Tarter

TL;DR

Scientist Jill Tarta discusses her work in the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life using radio telescopes and the potential for community participation in the endeavor.

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Questions & Answers

Q: How do radio waves differ from optical waves and what can they tell us about the universe?

Radio waves have longer wavelengths than optical waves, which means they can reveal information about colder areas in space. For example, looking at the same galaxy in radio waves versus optical waves would show different features, such as stars versus hydrogen gas.

Q: How do radio telescopes work and what are they used for in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence?

Radio telescopes capture radio waves from space and use reflective dishes and antennas to focus the waves onto receivers. In the search for intelligent signals, computers analyze the data to identify patterns that could be signs of engineered signals.

Q: Can computers detect signals that have not been programmed for?

While computers are excellent at finding patterns in noise when given specific parameters, they struggle with detecting unknown or anomalous signals. Human brains, on the other hand, are great at pattern recognition, which is why citizen scientists are being invited to help identify anomalies in the data.

Q: How can people participate in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence?

People can become citizen scientists and help analyze data or contribute their skills to improve algorithms for signal detection. Supporting the search as a benefactor or sharing the story with others is also encouraged.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Jill Tarta is a leading expert in the field of searching for intelligent life on other planets using radio telescopes.

  • Different wavelengths of radiation reveal different aspects of the universe, and radio waves are particularly useful for detecting engineered signals.

  • Tarta invites citizen scientists to join in the search and believes that even if a signal is never found, the search itself can change our perspective and unite humanity.

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