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Cool science jobs.


WHO: Jill Tarter

JOB: Alien Hunter

What do you do?

I'm an astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in California.

At SETI, we look for intelligent life on planets around stars other than our sun. We use radio telescopes to look for radio signals that other life forms in the universe might be beaming into space.


Have you found any evidence of alien life?

We've looked at a thousand nearby stars, where we thought might be planets. We haven't found any radio signals yet. But in our galaxy, there are 400 billion stars. So a thousand stars isn't very many. It's like putting a glass into the ocean and seeing whether you caught a fish in that glass. We still have a lot of searching to do.


What's the best part of your job?

The reward is getting to use telescopes to try to answer the question: Are we alone in the universe?

What's the worst part?

We don't have much money to keep our research going. So I spend lots of time raising funds.

What are you doing now?

I'm helping to build the Allen Telescope Array. It will have about 350 small radio dishes, all working together as if they were one giant radio telescope. It'll allow us to search for alien life continuously, 24 hours a day, and look at millions of stars.

What YOU Need

Necessary skills: The search for radio signals being sent by alien life forms requires math, engineering, and computer programming skills.

How to get started now: Join the SETl@home Program at You'll use your own computer to search for signals in data collected by a radio telescope.

What you can earn: To start, you could earn $70,000 a year. With experience, you could earn more than S150,000 a year.

Universities and research centers, such as the SETI Institute.

Do YOU Have What It Takes?

SETI researchers design experiments that look for signals, not send them. But in 1974, a powerful message was beamed into space to celebrate the upgrades to a radio telescope in Puerto Rico. The transmission was a simple picture message aimed at stars at the edge of our galaxy. If SETI astronomers detect a signal, should they respond to it? If you detected a signal from an extraterrestrial, what message would you send back?


For Grades K-4

* Changes in Earth and sky

* Science as a human endeavor

For Grades 5-8

* Science and technology in society

* Science as a human endeavor


Language Arts--Reading comprehension


Set a Purpose

To learn what some astronomers do and how to become one.


* Scientists say that there are at least 200 billion stars in our galaxy alone. They estimate that the universe could contain as many as 80 billion other galaxies.

Scientists say this means the odds are great that we are not the only life-forms in the universe.

Discussion Questions

* Do you think scientists should try to find evidence of other life-forms? (Answers will vary.)

* What types of conditions do you think a planet would need to support life? (Possible answers: The planet might need the right temperature and chemical makeup for liquid water to form.)


Discussion Question

* What characteristics do you think an astronomer searching for extraterrestrial life should have? (Possible answers: Curiosity, patience, advanced technology skills.)


* Learn more about SETI's research.
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Title Annotation:astronomers at SETI Institute
Author:Adams, Jacqueline
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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