Contact

I really like this movie; it’s the closest any feature presentation has come to showing what the life of an astronomer is really like. That’s probably because the movie is based on a novel written by the eminent astrophysicist Carl Sagan, and some of the characters in the story are based loosely on real life astronomers (Jodie Foster’s character is supposedly based loosely on the life experiences of an astronomer named Jill Tartar, and there really is a blind astronomer named Kent Cullers who worked for SETI). Besides that, though, I think “Contact” presents some compelling plot lines, most crucially the question of what really would happen to our society if we made contact with an alien civilization. It also addresses what many see as a conflict between science and religion.

Anyway, the movie is also great because it really tries to get as much of the physics right as possible. The opening sequence has a problem with the scale of objects and distances, but it at least has everything in the right place. The idea that another intelligent civilization may discover our existence by capturing stray radio transmissions from Earth is also sound. That’s how we’re hoping to discover them after all! And wormholes (if they’re real) are one of our best hopes for accomplishing interstellar travel in a single lifetime.

Blog post: Despite the many successes of the movie, the portrayal of the “Twin Paradox” at the end of the movie is incorrect. Explain what is wrong with the portrayal and describe how you would have to revise the movie script in order to gets this point right.

Numerical problem: How fast would you have to travel, according to special relativity, to take a journey that from Earth’s perspective would take 50 years, but from your perspective would last only 1 month?

Please post on your blog by Sunday, 19 Nov, and turn in your answer to the numerical problem in class on Monday, 20 Nov.

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