Astronomer Jill Tarter, the inspiration for Ellie Arroway, the alien-seeking character played by Jodie Foster in the movie "Contact," is stepping down from her job as the director of the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., Space.com reported.
Tarter, 68, has spent 35 years scanning space for signals from intelligent alien life, first with NASA, then at the SETI Institute, a nonprofit organization she helped launch in 1984, MSNBC reported.
Tarter explained to Space.com that she’s giving up her research job to tackle one of the biggest obstacles to finding aliens: funding. She said she will now focus on fundraising for the SETI Institute full-time.
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In 1993, Congress blocked NASA and the National Science Foundation from funding SETI research, MSNBC reported. The SETI Institute raised millions from software billionaire Paul Allen and other donors to build its 42-antenna alien-seeking Allen Telescope Array in Northern California in 2007. However, when its former partner, the University of California at Berkeley, was forced to pull out of the project in April 2011 because of budget cuts, the SETI Institute had to shut the ATA down.
The group restarted operations after raising $200,000 from an assortment of donors – including Jodie Foster – MSNBC reported. But the funding crisis was “eye-opening," Tarter told Space.com. "We've got to get stable funding into the house to do SETI research. We have a new partner, we got that deal done, so we can operate the array. But now we've got to provide funding for people to actually use it and do clever things, and do research, and look in new ways."
The new planets being identified by NASA’s Kepler mission are promising targets for SETI researchers to point their radio scopes at, she added.
"The Kepler worlds are really legitimizing SETI," Tarter told Space.com. "All of us that are even peripherally involved with that are looking and saying, 'You know, Earth 2.0, that's just right around the corner.’ ”
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