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what type of work do PEOPLE do when searching for life elsewhere?



Jill Tarter
Director, Center for SETI Research

Carl Sagan was thinking of Jill Tarter when he invented the main character in his novel Contact. Her search for radio signals from distant planets began at the University of California at Berkeley, and has led her to become director of the SETI Institute's Center for SETI Research. She has written award-winning teachers' guides about life in the universe, and has inspired many young people to consider questions of life beyond Earth.

Video interview with Tarter by the SETI Institute:

Profile of Tarter in Astrobiology Magazine:

Article by Tarter describing the SETI project:

Dan Werthimer
Director, UC Berkeley SETI Program

Dan Werthimer has spent twenty-five years searching for radio and laser signals from distant civilizations. He's created a worldwide supercomputer, the SETI@home project, connecting millions of people's hard drives across the globe to aid in the search. Though he hasn't detected a single signal, he's not deterred. Either other life exists out there or we are alone. To Werthimer, either result is profound.

A Planetary Society radio show featuring Werthimer:

An interview with Werthimer by the Exploratorium's Ron Hipschman:

Frank Drake
Senior Scientist, SETI Institute

In the astrobiology universe, Frank Drake is a kingpin. In 1960, he conducted the first radio search for extraterrestial intelligence. For twenty years, he was director of the Aricebo Observatory. Drake believes that life arose on Earth via common processes that could happen on other planets. The likelihood of intelligent life can be calculated using Drake's equation.

An interview with Drake on the Web site for the movie Contact:

Drake's statement about intellegent life in the universe:

Douglas Vakoch
Director of Interstellar Message Composition, SETI Institute

If some other civilization calls and says hello, how do we respond? As the SETI Institute's Director of Interstellar Message Composition, Douglas Vakoch is charged with answering that question. He consults artists, scholars, and scientists on the most comprehensible way to describe being human. How we answer that contact, he says, will set the tone for interstellar dialogue for thousands of years.

"How Would We Answer the Phone if ET Called Us?":

"The View From a Distant Star: Challenges of Message-Making":

"Bioastronomy 2002: Extending the Boundaries of Astrobiology":

Jonathan Trent
Astrobiologist, NASA Ames Research Center

What are the limits under which life can exist? What are the hottest and coldest temperatures life can withstand? Trent's work focuses on the adaptations of "extremophiles"—microbes living in habitats inhospitable to us. What he learns can tell us how life might adapt and flourish on planets with environments similar to Earth's extremes. His discovery of a protein in the bodies of creatures living in extremely hot environments has led to new forms of microscopic technology (nanotechnology).

PDF of Trent's paper about extremophiles in astrobiology:

Trent's Nanotechnology and Astrobiology Research Group:

Trent's undersea photos of unusual marine fauna:

Nathalie Cabrol
Planetary Scientist, Principal Investigator, NASA Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute

If there is water on Mars, Nathalie Cabrol is determined to find it. She has led several experiments employing robotic rovers on the Red Planet, hoping to discover traces of past or present channels and streams. As a planetary geologist, she’s also researched the geology of extremes on our planet in places like Chile's Lake Licancabur, that may resemble conditions that existed in ancient Martian lakes.

Cabrol's profile on the SETI Institute site:

Cabrol's profile and work at Lake Licancabur:

Lynn Rothschild
Evolutionary Biologist, NASA Ames Research Center

Ultraviolet radiation may be bad for humans, but Lynn Rothschild thinks it might have been good for the evolution of Earth's early organisms. Her studies of Earth's microbes living with high UV exposure tell us something about how similar organisms might survive on Mars. Rothschild is also interested in how microbes may have traveled between planets on meteorites. She has also organized several Astrobiology Science conferences.

"Protists, UV, and Evolution"
(A talk by Rothschild):

"Life in Extreme Environments"
(An article by Rothschild for

David Deamer
Director, UC Berkeley SETI Program

Knowing how life arose here can give us clues to how it might arise elsewhere. David Deamer is trying to solve the puzzle of how cells become cells, enclosed in membranes. In 1989, he mixed compounds from a fallen meteorite with water and found that they formed droplets resembling cell membranes. But that doesn't prove there's life elsewhere. Quoting Carl Sagan, Deamer says, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Deamer’s paper about the course of evolution and the origin of cellular life:

Chris McKay
Planetary Scientist, NASA Ames Research Center

Mars may tell us something about how life arose on Earth. Chris McKay would like to sample the Red Planet's soil and ice caps, looking for fossils of ancient organisms. He’s also devised plans for longer-term stays on Mars. For the moment, though, he has to settle for seeking clues to life's origins in Earth's extreme cold and dry environments.

Chris McKay’s Three Key Questions:

"Looking for Life, Astrobiologists Dive Deep":





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