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Guest Editorial

Sonia and the Spirit of SETI
by Elisabeth Piotelat

As some of my fellow SETI League members may know, I lost my daughter Sonia on the 26th of June, 2020. She was an 18 year old university STEM student. I was surprised when our Executive Director told me he felt he knew Sonia through my blog. I thought perhaps Paul and Sonia had met in “real life”.

I joined the SETI League before Sonia's birth in 2002. I think she was still a baby when she too joined the organization, as a household member. Her first contribution to SETI was an appearance on the "Who We Are" page of Allen Tought's Invitation to ETI website. I felt I couldn’t possibly introduce myself to an alien without proudly saying that ,I was her mother. When she was a teenager I asked her if I should have Paul remove her picture from that website, to protect here e-reputation in case someone googled her name. But she asked me not to do so.

I remember some philosophical discussions we had about the Pioneer Plaque, and the different ways to represent humanity. Her first drawings, and some of her toys, were used in one of my SETI talks. She was the first to listen to it, and to give sincere feedback: "it’s boring, Mom." When Sonia asked questions such as “Why don’t we send probes to Enceladus now?” I knew my presentation was ready.

Sonia might have met Paul at the 2008 UNESCO SETI symposium in Paris, had she not been at school during the presentations. She did attend one or two outreach events in French, but I’m afraid she didn’t meet a lot of SETI researchers there.

In 2017, Sonia went with me to the SETI Italia workshop in Milano. She used that occasion to write a report for her high school class about a job. She went there as a community manager, and took pictures for the SETI League website and Facebook page. She got a very good grade on that report, and really enjoyed being a part of our international community.

As a parent, you never know how your interests or your actions will influence your children. Sonia loved to repair her smartphone. She was really proud the first time she changed the screen alone. Maybe her inolvement with the SETI League had something to do with this ability. She saw pictures of various Project Argus stations, and visited the Nançay Observatory several times.

I want to thank Paul and all the SETI League members for the stars, and the hopes, that they put in the eyes of Sonia and of so many other young people they never met. This invisible impact of SETI research is amazing. In a way, Sonia lives on in the spirit of SETI.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.

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