"Contact's" Jodie Foster Narrates a Beautiful Video about Radio Astronomy

The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 5 2013 8:00 AM

Making Contact with the Very Large Array

VLA
Vigilant sentinels of the radio sky.

Photo by NRAO, from the video

The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array — or just VLA — is a collection of 28 radio dishes sitting in the New Mexico desert. It’s been in operation since 1980, and has been incomparable in furthering our knowledge of the radio Universe. These antennae collect extremely faint radio waves from space, which whisper their secrets about black holes, young stars, violent gamma-ray bursts, and far more.

Jodie Foster in Contact
Radio astronomy really doesn't work this way, but it's a fun idea.

Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory has just released a well-done video introducing and describing this magnificent machine. And I got a good chuckle out of it: It’s narrated by Jodie Foster, who filmed a major part of the movie Contact at VLA (it’s where she discovers the alien signal, in the iconic scene where she’s lying on the hood of her car listening to the feed from the telescopes converted to sound).

Advertisement

The video plays at the VLA Visitor Center, but they’ve put it online for everyone to see. It’s a little over 20 minutes long, and well worth the time. [NOTE: Apparently the video settings do not allow it to be played when embedded, so just click it and you'll be taken to the Vimeo page hosting it and you can watch it there.]

I visited VLA years ago to film an educational video. It was a wonderful experience, and I really relate to the shots of the wind and cold; the weather out there is…interesting.

I like how the video put human faces and desires into the astronomy; that is more important than you may know. I know a lot of astronomers, including many radio astronomers, and this is more than a job; it’s their life work. The ability to use such a finely-tuned and exquisitely engineered instrument like VLA is a true treasure for them, and a boon for the knowledge of humanity. With telescopes such as these, we can see from our inner solar system to the very edge of the observable Universe.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Television

See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 11:57 AM Iowa Radical The GOP’s Senate candidate doesn’t want voters to know just how conservative she really is.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 11:25 AM Naomi Klein Is Wrong Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change.
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 AM Thomas Jefferson's 1769 Newspaper Ad Seeking a Fugitive Slave 
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 30 2014 11:42 AM Listen to Our September Music Roundup Hot tracks from a cooler month, exclusively for Slate Plus members.
  Arts
Behold
Sept. 30 2014 12:10 PM Violence, Love, and Hope: Growing Up in the Bronx in the 1980s
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 11:55 AM The Justice Department Is Cracking Down on Sales of Spyware Used in Stalking
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.