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Remember the character Jodie Foster played in the movie "Contact," based on the book by Carl Sagan? She wasn't entirely invented; her character's basis was astronomer Jill Tarter.

Tarter, 68, has spent more than three decades leading the search for intelligent non-Earthly life at the SETI Institute, a nonprofit organization that devotes itself to scientific research, education and outreach on the subject of life in the universe.

This week, Tarter announced her retirement from directing the research side of SETI; she will now focus on fundraising, she told CNN Light Years in a recent interview.