How Should We Look For Aliens?

How Should We Look For Aliens?

The search for extraterrestrial life is the ultimate hybrid of creativity and science, the quest to discover something we can't even describe yet. Jill Tarter embodies that creativity in her work with the SETI Institute, and is the subject of a special video released today. WeTransfer's Creative Class is an online series highlighting creative people doing cool things in the world. This season, the series features SETI Institute astronomer Jill Tarter, the real-life inspiration for Carl Sagan's Dr Ellie Arroway in Contact.

Tarter chatted with Gizmodo about the role of creativity in the search for intelligent aliens, exclaiming, "You have to try to think creativity about how do you discover what you really can't imagine!"

How Should We Look For Aliens?

Jill Tarter, real-life alien-hunting astronomer. Image courtesy of Jill Tarter

"I like to say we're looking for photons, but maybe it's zeta rays that the advanced technologies of the universe are using to communicate," Tarter offered as an analogy. "I don't know what a zeta ray is because we haven't invented it yet. We don't understand that physics yet. Maybe that's in our future."

We haven't found aliens yet, so we need to keep expanding the very way that we search. "How do you look at the universe in new ways that will allow you to find things you that you didn't imagine?" Tarter said. "[Astronomer Martin Harwit] made this case for essentially venture investing in the astronomical sciences because every time you open up a new observation space, we found something we didn't expect!"

How Should We Look For Aliens?

What will we find if we listen in just the right way? Image credit: Warner Bros.

Astronomy is full of such examples. Tarter recounts the iconic discovery of pulsars that started in 1965-66, when a team of graduate students built a new type of radio telescope:

Jocelyn Bell and her colleagues spent the summer nailing up kilometers of wire and fence posts to make a low-frequency detector. They made it for a very scientific goal, but yet when Jocelyn was looking at the data, she found these little bits scruff. She was curious enough and systematic enough to follow up on them.

Suddenly, wow! There are radio beacons out there more precise than any clock we've built. There are entire stars, neutron stars, that are spinning around several times a second. Unbelievable! They found it because they had a new tool. They had a different way of looking at the universe.

This happens again and again and again. Every time we invent a new tool, discoveries follow. "I think being creative, building new ways to look at the universe, can lead to amazing results." Tarter said. "You don't do that if you think, 'Well, I'm going to do today what I did yesterday.'"

Our conversation with Tarter was so interesting and so long that we couldn't transcribe it all in just one night. Instead, check out her Creative Class special here:

Check back tomorrow as we continue our conversation with Tarter about how the SETI Institute searches for alien life, how that search might change as technology improves, and her life as one of the first women in the industry.

Top image: SETI astronomer Jill Tarter is the real-life inspiration for Contact's Ellie Arroway. Credit: Warner Bros.

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    I think they've already been studying us for a long long time, probably wondering if we'll survive the next millennia. She's right though, I doubt they're using Radio Waves to communicate.

    Last edited 21/01/16 3:17 pm

      I dont think it matters. Until we find a way to deal with the vast distances involved, its either a moot point, or alien life will have such a significant technological advantage over us that they decide what happens.

    Dr Steven Greer from Sirius Diclosure has protocols for making contact with these trans-dimensional beings. It all about clearing your mind and entering into a state of consciousness. They appear as orbs of light in the sky and some CE 5 contact.

    Once we do meet aliens we can have a gizmodo article 'The best apps for communicating with aliens'.

    There are a handful of very good TEDed talks that focus on finding alien life. None of us are even remotely sure what alien life could be. It could be like us, DNA, cells, about a metre and a half tall. It could be totally different, what's to say that the whole universe is a cell, each body is merely a cosmic organelle. Or perhaps advanced intelligences shrink themselves down to sizes so small that we can't possibly imagine seeing them, in an effort to become a more efficient being. If information is the essence of life then could the very laws of our universe be the remnants of life bygone. This is more than looking for a needle in a haystack. This is like looking for a something in a something, where neither is known.

    How should we look for aliens?

    I think they would appreciate some effort. I mean if we just turned up in some trackies and a blueie its not a great first impression.

    On the other hand we don't want to look like a bunch of stiffs in suits - and they are probably wearing comfortable clothes after travelling so far.

    I think smart casual, (no jeans) with well groomed hair would be appropriate.

    How should 'we' look for aliens? By using the same methods we use to look for leprechauns, fairies, goblins and god and all other make believe creatures.

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