Head Of Alien Hunting Organization Stepping Down From The Throne
May 22, 2012

Head Of Alien Hunting Organization Stepping Down From The Throne

Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com

Astronomer Jill Tarter, who has been heading up the SETI Institute for 35 years, will be giving up the reigns of the alien hunting organization to a colleague.

Tarter will be succeeded by SETI Institute Physicist Gerry Harp as Director of the Center for SETI Research.

Tarter says she will be focusing her time on fundraising for the work as the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI within the scientific organization.

“For many years working at the SETI Institute I´ve worn two hats: the Bernard Oliver chair, and the Director of the Center for SETI Research,” Tarter said in a press release.  “My colleague Dr. Gerry Harp will step into the directorship role to continue our strong tradition of excellent research, freeing me up to focus on finding stable funding for it."

She said she wants to make the funding of SETI a success, so future researchers can continue searching for extraterrestrial life.

The SETI Institute will be celebrating Tarter's career at the upcoming SETIcon II, which is a public convention that draws in over 60 scientists, artists and entertainers.

SETI will be having a gala event for Tarter on Saturday evening, June 23 during the convention.  Speakers at the event will include astronaut Mae Jemison, astronomer and "Drake Equation" author Frank Drake, and "Star Trek" actor Robert Picardo.

Tarter began her career with SETI back in the 1970s, when a small group of NASA researchers were developing novel equipment and strategies to make systematic radio SETI observations.

The SETI program uses large antennas in Australia, Puerto Rico and West Virginia to examine about one thousand nearby star systems over a wide range of radio frequencies.  Now, with NASA's Kepler Telescope, SETI has shifted its search strategy.

“Kepler has been a paradigm shift–starting with the first data release in 2010 and second in 2011 and third in 2012, we have altered our SETI search strategy," Tarter said.  " We are no longer pointing our telescopes at Sun-like stars in hopes of finding something; we are now observing stars where we KNOW there are planets."

She said that Kepler is helping SETI scientists find where to look, and focus their alien search at those locations.

"Exoplanets are real," Tarter said in the press release. "We´ve gone from having 20-30 potential targets to having thousands of targets."