Dr Tarter is the outgoing director of Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research, at the SETI Institute in California.
She led Project Phoenix, a 10-year investigation of around 750 nearby star systems, using telescopes in Australia, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. It is regarded as the most comprehensive search ever undertaken.
She now leads efforts to build the Allen Telescope Array, a massive group of telescopes that will eventually have 350 antennas and will be dedicated to Seti.
She tells BBC Future about her lifelong search for signs of life beyond the earth.