VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers


New Film: Explore Radio Astronomy Facility with Jodie Foster

You may not have heard of the VLA Facility in New Mexico desert but you probably have seen it on the big screen. The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array , located about 50 miles west of the town of Soccoro, is one of the world’s most powerful radio astronomy observatories and has been a popular backdrop for many Hollywood films including 2010: A Space Odyssey, Terminator: Salvation, and Contact.

This past week the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) which runs the recently renovated science facility released a polished, 24-minute, high-definition film that showcases the observatory’s inner workings and scientific contributions since opening back in 1980. It is viewable at the observatory’s Visitor Center and online.

Titled “Beyond the Visible: The Story of the Very Large Array”, the film is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Jodie Foster, star of the 1997 sci-fi movie ‘Contact’, which was filmed in part at the observatory.


The National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array in the New Mexico desert. has be refurbished recently and is now a subject of a new documentary. credit: NRAO
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array in the New Mexico desert. has be refurbished recently and is now a subject of a new documentary. credit: NRAO

Spectacular footage shows off the observatory’s 27 individual, 90-foot (27 meter) tall radio dishes set in a Y-shaped formation in the New Mexico desert.  By electronically combining their power, the facility is able to attain an effective resolution of a radio telescope that would be 22 miles (36 kilometer) across.

“In ‘Contact,’ I played the role of an astronomer using the VLA,” said Jodie Foster in a press release.

“In narrating this new film for the VLA Visitor Center, I have the privilege of introducing tomorrow’s scientists, technicians, and engineers to the amazing complexities of this great telescope, and to the wonders of the universe that it reveals.”

Unfortunately the official VLA website is now offline thanks to the government shutdown, but you can watch the film above or enjoy it by clicking here .  And make sure you watch it in HD – it is absolutely beautiful.


Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.



  1. Greg Simpson
    Pinellas Park, FL
    November 18, 2013, 5:32 am

    What a beautifully produced film! And Jodie Foster as narrator was a terrific idea! My wife and I visited the VLA during a trip out west, back in 1999, and it was a stunning sight, after seeing it on TV and in movies. It’s great to know that the antennas have now been refurbished and the computer system has been updated; the facility will continue to be the premier sight for radio astronomy.
    Thanks again for the terrific short film! Well done!