For anyone who has ever looked up at the night sky and wondered, "Are we alone?" A brilliant examination of the science behind the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and its pioneer, Jill Tarter, the inspiration for the main character in Carl Sagan's Contact.
Jill Tarter is a pioneer, an innovator, an adventurer, and a controversial force. At a time when women weren’t encouraged to do much outside the home, Tarter ventured as far out as she could—into the three-Kelvin cold of deep space. And she hasn’t stopped investigating a subject that takes and takes without giving much back.
Today, her computer's screensaver is just the text “SO…ARE WE ALONE?” This question keeps her up at night. In some ways, this is the question that keep us all up at night. We have all spent dark hours wondering about our place in it all, pondering our "aloneness," both terrestrial and cosmic. Tarter’s life and her work are not just a quest to understand life in the universe: they are a quest to understand our lives within the universe. No one has told that story, her story, until now.
It all began with gazing into the night sky. All those stars were just distant suns—were any of them someone else's sun? Diving into the science, philosophy, and politics of SETI—searching for extraterrestrial intelligence—Sarah Scoles reveals the fascinating figure at the center of the final frontier of scientific investigation. This is the perfect book for anyone who has ever looked up at the night sky and wondered if we are alone in the universe.
In this biography, science writer Scoles celebrates the life and work of astronomer Jill Cornell Tarter and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), the movement whose beating heart she has long been. Tarter has been searching the skies since the late 1960s, when computers ran on information from punch cards. In that time she has battled skeptical donors, derisive politicians, and constant misogyny. She was also the inspiration for the character of Ellie Arroway in the novel Contact. Scoles shares milestones and anecdotes from Tarter's life while explaining what SETI is and how it has evolved with technological advancements. Scoles also notes the recent events that make it more possible that we may one day find life outside our world: the detection of planets orbiting distant stars and the discovery of extremophiles, which are terrestrial organisms that live in extreme conditions. Over time, Tarter's team at the Center for SETI Research grew to include chemists, geologists, philosophers, and others. The book's only drawback is that its narrative skips back and forth, which can make the chronology confusing. That flaw aside, Scoles shares the fantastic story of people willing to pursue a quixotic goal in the face of daunting odds.