Radio telescopes in the movies

You may have noticed that Astronomy Blog has been very quiet recently. That is because I'm incredibly busy right now with important work which is taking up pretty much all my time. I should be back in about two weeks, but in the mean time here is something I wrote back in August that I hadn't got around to posting…

The other day I was talking about using radio telescopes to search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (as you do) and the person I was talking to said "you mean like in that film with whatstheirname". I instantly knew that they were referring to the film Contact starring Jodie Foster. This wasn't because of my amazing mind-reading abilities, but because it is one of a select bunch of films to feature radio telescopes.

As well as Jodie Foster, Contact also starred the NRAO's Very Large Array in New Mexico and the Arecibo dish in Puerto Rico. The VLA is a radio interferometer that simulates the effect of having a radio telescope up to 36 km in diameter and usually studies distant radio galaxies, quasars and that sort of thing. The 305-m Arecibo dish has been used in the past by the SETI Institute to hunt for signals from E.T. but also spends a large portion of its time looking for pulsars. The Arecibo dish also featured in the James Bond film Golden Eye.

Talking of alien life, Jodrell Bank's Lovell telescope briefly featured in the recent Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy below a Vogon spaceship. Although I know that the film-makers shot a scene with Jodrell Bank astronomers trying to make contact with the Vogons (real astronomers were used as background actors) it does not seem to have even made the 'deleted scenes' section on the DVD. The Lovell telescope has also appeared in the British sci-fi classic Dr Who. In one episode, Tom Baker fell to his death from the telescope and regenerated into Peter Davison.

My favourite film containing a radio telescope is The Dish, set at the Parkes 64-m radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia. The film follows the events surrounding the Apollo 11 landing in 1969 from a distinctly Australian point of view. Although many people might think the film slow, I think it is great. It asks one of the great questions of our time: "What's it doing in the middle of a sheep paddock?"

If you know of any other radio telescopes in the movies, add them to the comments below.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 21st Sep 2005 (12:22 UTC) | Permalink
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