Meet The Real-Life Astronomer Who Inspired Jodi Foster’s Character In ‘Contact’

jodie foster contact

Are we alone in this vast cosmos? That’s the burning question that drove Dr. Eleanor Arroway — a fictional astronomer in Carl Sagan’s book “Contact,” who was played by Jodi Foster in the 1997 film adaptation — on her epic quest for extra-terrestrial life.

And it’s also motivated the career of Dr. Jill Tarter, the real-life astronomer said to have inspired Arroway’s character.

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Jodi Foster as Dr. Eleanor Arroway in the film “Contact.”

Tarter retired in 2012 after spending 35 years scanning the skies for alien signals, and more than a decade as director of the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research in Mountain View, Calif. But she’s still actively involved in the search for life — and is encouraging the next generation of E.T. hunters.

To learn just what Tarter is up to now, and find out what’s motivated her to keep up the hunt, HuffPost Science emailed her a series of questions. Here, lightly edited, are her answers:

What makes you sure that alien life is out there?

I’m not sure. This is a question that we are trying to answer. It is as legitimate to ask of the universe, “Is life ubiquitous, or singular?” as it is to ask “How did it all begin?” “How will it end?” and “Are there other universes?” During my own career, the discovery of extremophiles and exoplanets have made the universe appear more bio-friendly, but that is not the same as saying that biology, and life-as-we-don’t-yet-know-it exist beyond the Earth. This question will only be answered by exploration. That is what SETI is trying to do — and we do not know the answer.

“If they can get here, then they are far more technologically advanced than we are, and the reality is that they will set the rules —> Read More