On the Shoulders of SETI Giants: A Clip

This weekend is SETIcon, and A Life’s Work’s little tribute to SETI continues with this clip of Jill Tarter. Here she speaks about Frank Drake (included in the clip below), who conducted the first SETI experiment in 1960.  Drake , Philip Morrison and Giuseppe Cocconi, Barney Oliver–these and others trail-blazed the field, allowing future generations of SETI scientists, such as Tarter and her colleague Seth Shostak, to carry on with the research.


Behind the Scenes at SETI

We were there to interview Tarter, and A Life’s Work isn’t the kind of documentary that asks other folks for sound bites about the main subject. I was concerned we might insult him by asking to just film him and not interview him. But he was very accommodating and gracious. He asked us what we wanted to shoot and we decided on him at his desk, writing something. We weren’t going to zoom in on what he was writing, so anything would do.

“I’ll write the Drake Equation. How’s that? If I can remember it.” Cinematographer Andy Bowley and I laughed heartily. So we shot about five minutes of him at his desk, writing the Drake Equation over and over on a sheet of paper.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but now I wish I had that sheet of paper. What a keepsake that would have been!

And Lastly…

Have a great SETIcon, all of you who will be attending and presenting. If all goes well, I’ll have a guest blogger sharing her impressions of the event.

 See also:

The Shot That Got Away




2 Replies to “On the Shoulders of SETI Giants: A Clip”

  1. The Drake equation is cool. Professor David Helfand, in Columbia University’s Frontiers of Science class, has solved it in front of students using rough estimates. His answer works out to 1 – us! But since our galaxy is just one of hundreds of billions, this doesn’t speak to other life in the Universe.

    1. The Drake Equation is very cool. And right now, the answer is one.

      When I interviewed Tarter, she said, “The Drake equation is a lovely way to organize our ignorance but it isn’t a tool really that allows us to calculate anything, because it’s just full of our guesses about how many of something.” (How many stars in the universe, how many planets orbit those stars, how many of those planets are in the habitable zone, how many have life that creates technology, etc.)

      It is an equation full of unknown (but hopefully not unknowable) variables. The most interesting variable? In my opinion, how long does a civilization exist with advanced technology?

      Tarter: “… how long that (advanced) technology lasts. Because if the rule out there in the galaxy is, that as soon as you become intelligent and develop technology, you use that technology to destroy yourself, and therefore technology is a very short lived phenomena, there’s just no probability that another technological civilization would exist in our neighborhood of our very vast galaxy at the same time, when we are going through the short-lived technological phase the we find ourselves.”

      It’s a big question: can we survive our technology?

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