Contact: Summary

The book, Contact, by Carl Sagan was published in 1985. The main idea of this science fiction novel is centered on the contact between humanity and other life forms in the universe. I chose to read this book because the study of space greatly intrigues me and the idea that there could be other forms of life elsewhere is a topic I consider to be interesting.

“Contact” book cover
Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan is a man that will be remembered in many aspects of the science community forever. Sagan was born on November 9, 1934 in Brooklyn, New York. Sagan’s parents greatly contributed to the growth of his passion for astronomy. At the age of 16, Sagan graduated high school and continued his education when he decided to attend the University of Chicago in 1951. He eventually obtained a Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics and accepted the job as assistant professor at Harvard College. In 1968, he began his career at Cornell University where he maintained his position as David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences until his death in 1996.

Quote by Carl Sagan

Sagan was devoted to his research and relentlessly worked to achieve great and unimaginable things. He is responsible for the discovery of the modern idea of planet Venus’s atmosphere. He also believed that wind-blown dust was the cause of the seasonal changes that are exhibited at the surface of the planet Mars. This was later confirmed by the Mariner 9 and Viking spacecraft. Sagan worked closely with NASA to advance our understanding of the universe. He was asked to help with the mission of the Viking, Voyager 1, Voyager 2, and many other spacecraft missions. Sagan also helped Frank Drake to come up with the famous Drake equation that estimates how many planets in the universe are capable of sustaining life.

Photograph of a wormhole

On top of his numerous contributions to the scientific community through research, Sagan also donated valuable works of literature to the world, even winning the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1978 for his book The Dragons of Eden. One of his last works of literature, Contact, was transformed into a motion picture in August of 1997, just a year after his death.

Radio telescope

The novel focuses on the life of the main character, Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, and her deep interest in the search for extraterrestrial life. Following her passion, she begins to work on the “Argus Project” in New Mexico. This project’s goal is to monitor outer space for any signs or radio frequencies signaling extraterrestrial life. In order to accomplish this, radio astronomers like Ellie herself, use over 100 radio telescopes and their ability to detect radio waves. One day while monitoring the star system, Vega, 26 light years away, Ellie receives a signal that is transformed into a message consisting of a series of prime numbers. A second message is later received displaying a video of the first radio waves transmitted from Earth into space. After closer analysis, an underlying encryption is found. The blue prints of some sort of machine are unveiled after the code was deciphered. After much turmoil, Ellie and five others travel through a wormhole to the star system, Vega where Ellie encounters a life form disguised as her deceased father. The life form gives Ellie some valuable information about space and time. Once the crew returns to Earth, they are accused of conspiracy. In the end, Ellie begins to research pi due to information given to her when she traveled to Vega.

Star explosion

Different forms of science and space study are present throughout the book. These include radio astronomy, the search for extraterrestrial life, and wormholes. The story mainly focuses on the use of these sciences. The discovery and technological advances of radio astronomy by Karl Janksy and Grote Reber led to the discovery of pulsars, quasars, and other important advances in astronomy. Sagan’s discovery of Venus’s atmosphere was in part due to the use of radio astronomy to detect the radio emissions of the planet’s atmosphere. In the 1960s, the search for extraterrestrial life became popular. The creation of the Drake equation, which Sagan contributed to, gave the possibility for planets to sustain life. Wormholes are an idea brought to light by Albert Einstein and Nathen Rosen when they were attempting to eliminate Schwarzschild singularities. This theory is also known as the Einstein-Rosen bridge. Sadly, there has been no evidence to prove or disprove the existence of such a phenomenon. Sagan used these ideas to present the story of Eleanor Arroway while at the same time showing the world his beliefs relating to science. His goal was to illustrate the wonders in the world of science. He wanted the world to see the reason for his great passion in the world of science and astronomy.


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