Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Radio Telescopes In The New Movie "Contact" Dish Up Real Science

Date:
July 15, 1997
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
In the new movie "Contact," astronomer Ellie Arroway, played by actress Jodie Foster, searches for signs of extraterrestrial life using massive, Earth-bound radio telescopes. Much of Contact's scientific intrigue, based on Carl Sagan's 1985 bestseller, unfolds at two National Science Foundation-supported radio astronomy facilities where real-life astronomical mysteries continue to be probed.

July 10, 1997 NSF PR 97-49

Media contact: Lynn Simarski, (703) 306-1070/lsimarsk@nsf.gov Dave Finley National Radio Astronomy Observatory, (505)835-7302/dfinley@aoc.nrao.edu

RADIO TELESCOPES IN THE NEW MOVIE "CONTACT" DISH UP REAL SCIENCE

In the new movie "Contact," astronomer Ellie Arroway, played by actress Jodie Foster, searches for signs of extraterrestrial life using massive, Earth-bound radio telescopes.

Much of Contact's scientific intrigue, based on Carl Sagan's 1985 bestseller, unfolds at two National Science Foundation-supported radio astronomy facilities where real-life astronomical mysteries continue to be probed. Scientists use the government-supported telescopes to detect radio waves not from distant civilizations but from planets, stars, galaxies and other objects in space. Radio observations extend astronomers' reach into space and time, letting them "see" through gas and dust in space to detect celestial objects whose visible light cannot be seen from Earth.

In "Contact," Foster hears the first guttural, throbbing message transmitted by other-worldly life using the world's most powerful radio telescope, the Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico, a collection of 27 antennas spread in a three-armed configuration across the desert. The huge dishes which Foster manipulates in the film from her lap-top computer like a high-tech, movable Stonehenge are run in reality by NSF's National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Electronically linked to simulate a single radio telescope up to 20 miles in diameter, the antennas can be bunched together or moved apart along railroad tracks into different configurations. About 700 astronomers use the VLA each year to observe the universe.

Earlier this year the VLA was used to detect the first radio emission from a gamma-ray burster shedding light on the cause and locations of these explosions, one of the great mysteries of astrophysics. In a 1994 discovery, the VLA revealed an object within the Milky Way Galaxy--a double-star system with a black hole or neutron star as one partner--ejecting jets of particles at nearly the speed of light, a process thought to mirror the dynamics at work in the centers of galaxies.

In "Contact," Foster gets her scientific start at another NSF-supported facility, the Arecibo Observatory, a huge, stationary radio dish operated by Cornell University in the lush mountain setting of Puerto Rico. The 1000-foot reflector dish, also featured in the James Bond film, "Goldeneye," is the largest stationary radio telescope and most powerful radar in the world. Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor of Princeton University earned a Nobel Prize by using the dish in the 1970s to discover the first pulsar in a binary system, confirming a prediction of Einstein's theory of general relativity.

In the early 1990s, Arecibo was used to detect the first planets outside the solar system. The dish recently received a facelift in a $27-million upgrade which makes it four times more sensitive to radio emissions from distant galaxies. The dish was used in the 1960s to chart accurately for the first time the rate at which the planet Mercury rotates. More recently it studied ice in Mercury's polar craters, the chemistry of Earth's upper atmosphere and rotating pulsars. The new upgrade will let astronomers "hear" signals from much greater distances, and further back in time, than before.

-NSF-

NSF is an independent federal agency responsible for fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of about $3.3 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states, through grants to more than 2,000 universities and institutions nationwide. NSF receives more than 50,000 requests for funding annually, including at least 30,000 new proposals.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Radio Telescopes In The New Movie "Contact" Dish Up Real Science." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 July 1997. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/07/970715054250.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (1997, July 15). Radio Telescopes In The New Movie "Contact" Dish Up Real Science. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/07/970715054250.htm
National Science Foundation. "Radio Telescopes In The New Movie "Contact" Dish Up Real Science." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1997/07/970715054250.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: NASA Captures Solar Flare

Raw: NASA Captures Solar Flare

AP (Sep. 1, 2014) NASA reported the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, on August 24th. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the images of the flare, which erupted on the left side of the sun. (Sept. 1) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) The space shuttle Discovery launched for the very first time 30 years ago. Here's a look back at its legacy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Newsy (Aug. 27, 2014) Researchers at Fermilab are using a device called "The Holometer" to test whether our universe is actually a 2-D hologram that just seems 3-D. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins