This evening the great Jill Tarter from the SETI Institute gave a lecture here at OSU as part of the Biard Lecture Series. Dr. Tarter has been researching and searching for signs of extraterrestrial technologies for several decades now, but you may know her best from the character based on her in Carl Sagan’s Contact, including the movie version with Jody Foster. I had met her when I was an intern at the SETI Institute five years ago, though I didn’t have the chance to work which her much, but the experience there was quite awesome. As for the lecture, her talk was about not just the SETI search program itself but the general expansion of what we know about planetary systems and what could harbor life, along with ways of getting people involved in the search or in the science in general.
When it comes to this public interaction with the searches (something I have talked about before), a new program was highlighted called SETILive. Basically, you as a human have great pattern-recognition abilities, better than computers (at least for now). SETI has to go through collected data in real time, so it can’t look as well for all possible artificial signals as they want to. But you can help! The website I linked provides a way for you to help find signals in various graphs, and you draw the signal line if it’s there, which helps SETI find candidate signals better. In a way, the process is reminiscent of Galaxy Zoo. I recommend you check it out to see if you are interested; if you’re lucky, you might find a near-by civilization.
The theater used was looking pretty full, so fortunately a lot of people were able to hear this great talk. If you want to hear Dr. Tarter give a presentation like this one, she had done one for TED some time ago after she was awarded the TED Award (for being awesome and needing money to reach some goal/wish). You can watch that here.
Check out the SETI Institute, and consider helping them out in their work one way or another.