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In the movie Contact, aliens from the Vega system contact humans by retransmitting Hitler's August 1st opening speech of the 1936 Summer Olympics, popularly held to be the first radio transmission to make it into deep space.

Taking a wild guess that the broadcast was at high noon in Berlin, the sky from that city would have looked like this (via the planetarium software C2A):

starfield

I have helpfully highlighted Vega, centered in the cyan crosshairs.

As you can see, it's right on the horizon. For reasons I won't get into, the exact altitude makes a huge difference in whether a radio signal reaching Vega is merely improbable or outright impossible, and the altitude of Vega depends on the rotation of the Earth. Therefore, the following question:

At what time of day did Hitler make his address?

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  • Haven't you forgotten about the 25 or so years it would take the radio signal to reach Vega?
    – fdb
    Aug 20, 2017 at 22:20
  • @fdb I don't think that matters. It's just about whether Vega was in line-of-sight at time of transmission. Of course, Contact is based on the novel written by Carl Sagan. I'd be surprised if Sagan got it wrong (but then again, I can't remember if the contact actually came from the Vega system in the book). Aug 20, 2017 at 22:51
  • Not an astronomer, but AFAICT Vega is always above the horizon in Berlin. More problematic for the story is that the signal would have been detectable only ~320 AU (or 0.00506 light years) away—a far cry from Vega's 25.04 light years (especially since the falloff is quadratic).
    – imallett
    Aug 20, 2017 at 23:15
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    @Barry The apparent motion of Vega is due to the rotation of the Earth. The correct analogy here is a stationary target, rotating rifle.
    – imallett
    Aug 21, 2017 at 0:32
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    Tangentially related: For public relations reasons Hitler did not give a speech at the Berlin Olympics. He only spoke one sentence to declare the games as as open and that was it (and that sentence is the clip that is part of the film). Jul 5, 2018 at 19:05

2 Answers 2

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Based on the timetable of the television broadcaster (Fernsehsender Paul Nipkow) the planed time was 17:03 CET (16:03 UT).

This was from a television broadcaster that could be received in the general Berlin area from the 18th of April 1934 until the 19th of October 1944.

The wave lengths for the sound and picture are also meantioned in the quoted portion of the protocol below.

Ablauf der Fernsehübertragung am 1. August 1936 - Eröffnung der Olympischen Spiele 1936

OLYMPIA-PROGRAMM des "Fernsehsenders Paul Nipkow Berlin"


ERÖFFNUNGSFEIER 1. AUGUST 1936

3 Übertragungsstellen:

  1. Zwischenfilm-Wagen am Marathontor (Süd)
  2. Ikonoskop Fernseh- A.G. im Olympia-Stadion, oberer Umgang
  3. Ikonoskop Telefunken im Olympia-Stadion, unterer Umgang

Zeiteinteilung und Programmablauf:

15.00 Uhr Ansage aus dem Fernseh-Senderaum Rognitzstraße:
"Achtung, Achtung! Hier ist der "Fernsehsender Paul Nipkow Berlin"
mit Ton auf Welle 7.06 Meter
mit Bild auf Welle 6.77 Meter
mit der Olympia-Sondersendung.
...
Ca. 16.55 Uhr Rede Coubertins, Ansprache des Präsidenten des O.K., Exzellenz Lewald.

17.03 Uhr Der Führer erklärt von der Loge aus die Spiele mit folgenden Worten für eröffnet:
"Ich verkünde die Eröffnung der Spiele von Berlin zur Feier der XI. Olympischen Spiele neuer Zeitrechnung".

17.04 Uhr Anschliessend wird die Olympische Flagge gehisst.
Achtung, dies erfasst die Ü-Stelle II, die Farnworth-Kamera mit Erklärung des Sprechers Marek.
Die Artillerieabteilung schiesst Salut.
Tausende von Brieftauben werden abgelassen.
...

OLYMPIA PROGRAM of the "Television Station Paul Nipkow Berlin"


OPENING CEREMONY AUGUST 1, 1936

3 transmission points:

  1. Intermediate film truck at the Marathon Gate (South)
  2. Ikonoskop Fernsehen- A.G. in the Olympic Stadium, upper gallery
  3. Telefunken iconoscope in the Olympic Stadium, lower ambulatory

Timing and program schedule:

3 p.m. Announcement from the TV broadcasting room Rognitzstraße: "Attention, attention! Here is the "TV station Paul Nipkow Berlin"
with sound on wave 7.06 meters
with picture on wave 6.77 meters
with the Olympics special.
...
Approx. 4:55 p.m. Coubertin's speech, Speech by the President of the OK, Excellency Lewald.

5.03 p.m. From the box, the Führer declares the games open with the following words:
"I announce the opening of the Berlin Games to celebrate the XI Olympic Games of the New Era".

5.04 p.m. The Olympic flag will then be hoisted.
Caution, this captures the Ü-stelle II, the Farnworth camera with an explanation from the speaker Marek.
The artillery department fires a salute.
Thousands of carrier pigeons are released.
...


Sources:

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I found a programme for the 1936 Berlin Olympiad which seems to show that the opening ceremony began at 16:00 (4pm) local time.

Hitler didn't make his speech until late in the proceedings, after the Parade of Nations and a speech by the president of the German Olympic Committee. The Parade of Nations had something over 5,000 athletes from 51 nations marching in alphabetical order (with Greece leading the parade and Germany, as host nation, at the end).

Based on more recent Olympic opening ceremonies, we need to allow a couple of hours for the Parade of Nations and the speech by the president of the German Olympic Committee. So Hitler probably made his speech at about 18:00 (6pm) local time (give-or-take an hour or so).

Germany wasn't using daylight saving in 1936 (they abolished at in 1919 and didn't re-introduce it until 1940), so 18:00 in Berlin would be 17:00 UT.

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  • (Accepting this answer; it shows that Vega would be at least 29°34' in the sky. If anyone can cite a more precise time, I'll accept that answer instead.)
    – imallett
    Aug 20, 2017 at 22:14
  • In response to edit, for people of the future, 18±1 local (19±1 UT, as UTC didn't exist yet) corresponds to Vega being at an altitude: (18 UT: +55°38') (19 UT: +64°33') (20 UT: +72°19').
    – imallett
    Aug 21, 2017 at 0:28
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    I know this is a really old answer, but I think the last line has the time zone adjustment the wrong way round: Germany is east of the Greenwich meridian, so its standard time is 1 hour ahead of GMT/UT. 18:00 in Berlin would be 17:00 UT.
    – IMSoP
    Jul 14, 2021 at 9:09
  • @IMSoP, you should edit the answer to reap the rewards, then... Jul 14, 2021 at 9:59

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