Jill Tarter searches for extraterrestrial life

The wish


The winner

Jill Tarter

The year


I wish that you would empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company.

The plan

Are we alone in the universe? It’s one of the most basic questions of our existence. Since 1959, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has used the tools of astronomy to search for signs of technology created by other sentient beings. But so far, given the vastness of space, all the searching done amounts to having scooped a single glass from the ocean. Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute wants to use the tools of the 21st century to accelerate the search. By harnessing the power of crowd, she says, we can get, “more hands in the water.” With the TED Prize, Tarter assembled a group of engineers and technologists to create an online tool for mass collaboration on this project. The goal: globalize the search for extraterrestrial life and empower a new generation of SETI enthusiasts.

Current status

In 2012, the SETI Institute, TED Prize and Zooniverse launched SETILive, a citizen science project that allowed more than 74,000 volunteers to search data streaming live from the Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek, California. SETILive incorporated innovative data processing methods and the ability to input alternative search algorithms, letting people around the world use their pattern recognition abilities to search frequency bands contaminated with man-made noise. At the time, the array’s real-time processing software was not able to process data from these bands. Today, supercomputers are able to do this work. SETILive concluded in October 2014.

But the search for extraterrestrial life continues. In 2017, the SETI Institute began raising funds for Laser SETI, an innovative technology that allows the observation of all the sky, all the time. The system improves sensitivity to signals that might be sporadic, short-lived or transient, recognizing optical flashes shorter than a millisecond. In the near future, the Institute would like radio sensitivity at this level too. “In SETI, we reserve the right to get smarter,” said Tarter.

Get involved

  1. Donate to the SETI Institute, as the ultimate search requires the best tools, ideas, and technology.
  2. Stay in touch with the SETI Institute, by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

About Jill

SETI's Jill Tarter has devoted her career to hunting for signs of sentient beings elsewhere, and almost all aspects of this field have been affected by her work.
Learn More about Jill

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