Jill Tarter has one of the best jobs in the world. She is an astronomer. Her niche area in astronomy? Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence.
You have to take note when she speaks. Why? Here is a partial list of her achievements:
Project Director at SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence)
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Time Magazine one of 100 most influential people 2004
Expert advisor to Jodie Foster prior to and during filming of the movie Contact
My introduction to Jill was last Monday at 4.30 am. while driving to work. It’s over an hour in the car at that time, commuting from nearly the southernmost point of Victoria to Melbourne. Like most people, I surf the wireless in the car. And the Ted Radio Hour was on ABC National, featuring Jill. Here is the transcript of her introductory comment:
TARTER: We actually, as humans, have this very, very intimate connection with the cosmos. If you think about the molecules of hemoglobin in your blood, there’s a lot of iron there, and that iron – in the hemoglobin molecule was created – it was manufactured in nucleosynthesis. Inside a massive star that blew up statistically about 8 billion years ago. So inside you are the remains of a stellar explosion.
HOST: Stardust, in our veins?
You don’t have to an astronomer to realise that everything came from the Big Bang. But doesn’t it take your breath away when it’s spelt out like that. Your blood. My blood. Your enemies’ blood. The blood of William Ernest Henley when he writes:
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed
I was spellbound. Back to the interview:
HOST: Stardust, in our veins?
TARTER: Absolutely, you are made of stardust. Everything that we know of is made of stardust, and without the stars, and without the long history of the universe evolving to form galaxies and stars, there wouldn’t be us. If we got that concept in our minds – that we’re made of stardust – and we could take a few moments in our day to think on that cosmic scale, to sort of step back and take a look at the big picture, to see that Earth is just one tiny, little planet in the corner of one small galaxy in a very, very big universe, I think that would help us to understand that really, all of us here on earth, we’re all the same when compared with something else out there in the cosmos.
It was still dark when I heard those lines. And cloudy and drizzly. No stars visible. But all I could think of was Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot Speech while Voyager I ‘slipped the surly bonds of the Solar System’ (to paraphrase Ronald Reagan and John Magee Jnr).
The interview, more accurately my thoughts, then waxed and waned. From Blood to the Pale Blue Dot to Another Red Light to the Big Bang to Multiple Universes to Cops Up Ahead…
As the program came to a close, I finished off with a cacophonic attempt at an old song. I was, after all, a starman…
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
Hed like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky…