VLA Hosts 20th Anniversary Celebration of Movie "Contact"

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VLA Hosts 20th Anniversary Celebration of "Contact"

Astronomer Jill Tarter, Who Inspired The Main Character, To Speak On Campus Oct. 7

SOCORRO, N.M. – The National Radio Astronomy Observatory will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the movie "Contact" with a special open house at the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array on Saturday, October 7. “Contact” was partially filmed at the VLA and served to boost awareness and astronomy tourism in the Socorro area.


Dr. Jill Tarter is the astronomer on whom Carl Sagan based the main character in the book and movie, "Contact."  Tarter is a world-renowned astronomer and will be the featured guest during the 20th anniversary celebration of the movie premiere on Saturday, Oct. 7, in Socorro. Iconic scenes from the movie were filmed at the Very Large Array west of Socorro.

Photo courtesy of SETI

The 20th anniversary event will feature guided tours of the VLA, NRAO staffers sharing their stories about the filming, special selfie and photo opportunities where scenes from the movie were shot, and a book signing by Dr. Jill Tarter, the astronomer after whom the film's central character was modeled.

The open house at the VLA will be followed by a talk by Tarter and her biographer, Sarah Scoles, and a star party, both on campus in Socorro. Guided tours at the VLA will start at 11 a.m., with the last tour starting at 5 p.m. The lecture and book signing at the Fidel Center will begin at 7:30 p.m. and run until 9 p.m. The star party at the Etscorn Campus observatory runs from dark until 11 p.m. All events are free.

"Contact" opened in theaters in July 1997, and starred Jodie Foster as Ellie Arroway, a radio astronomer who uses the VLA to detect signals from an alien civilization. Based on a novel by Carl Sagan, the film was directed by Robert Zemeckis, with a cast and crew that included 11 Academy Award winners. Filming on the project began at the VLA in September 1996, using the observatory's giant dish antennas as backdrops for several scenes, including the crucial "moment of discovery" scene.


Much of the publicity for "Contact" featured images from the Very Large Array, including this movie poster with stars Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey. 



The filming brought hundreds of movie personnel to Socorro and the VLA, turning the remote scientific facility into a small city teeming with activity, and filling local motels with some famous faces. At the VLA, filmmakers worked alongside scientists, engineers, and technicians from the observatory to meet the formidable challenge of making a movie without interrupting the ongoing scientific research. The dramatic result hit theaters and TV networks around the world, and remains available on television and DVD.

The movie gave an immediate boost to tourism at the VLA. Today, two decades after its release, many visitors still come to the famous radio observatory with scenes from "Contact" fresh in their memories.

Daytime events at the VLA on Saturday, October 7, include guided tours, starting at 11 a.m. The tours will begin at regular intervals, and will feature visits to the VLA control room, special posters describing the operation of the observatory, and experts explaining the workings of the 230-ton dish antennas. From 11:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., members of the NRAO staff who were involved in the filming will describe their experiences and answer questions.

Scoles is the author of the new biography, "Making Contact: Jill Tarter and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence." Tarter and Scoles will sign copies of the book, which will be on sale in the Visitor Center from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7.

Tarter was the recipient of the Karl G. Jansky Lectureship in 2014, when she delivered a lecture at the Macey Center in Socorro. She is credited with coining the term "brown dwarf" to describe objects larger than planets but too small to trigger the thermonuclear reactions in their cores that power stars.

Tarter has received numerous awards in recognition of her achievements, including a Lifetime Achievement Award by Women in Aerospace in 1989, being named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2002 and a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences in 2003. Also in 2003, she received the Adler Planetarium Women in Space Science Award, and was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2004.

Throughout her career, Tarter has been deeply involved in the education of future citizens and scientists. In addition to her scientific leadership at NASA and the SETI Institute, she has been the Principal Investigator for two curriculum development projects funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and others. These are the "Life in the Universe" series of science teaching guides for grades 3-9, and "Voyages Through Time," an integrated high-school science curriculum on the fundamental theme of evolution.

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