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After a teenage girl develops technology to send messages into deep space, her autistic brother and an alien visitor must work together to stave off an invasion.
Dr. Malcolm Jensen and his team of post-docs discover how to identify signals from outer space, locating several persistent patterns from within the galaxy. To determine if the signals are natural or artificial, they send transmissions back to the sources of the signals. The transmissions, using standard Earth technology, will take years to reach their destinations.
Roger Lighthouse, a Harris Creek Radio Observatory technician and a former post-doc of Dr. Jensen, assists with the transmissions. He tells his daughter, Bekah Lighthouse, about the transmissions and they use a small radio telescope in their backyard to track the signals. When Roger is mysteriously killed in a car crash, Bekah finds blueprints in his brief case for a machine that is capable of having near real-time communication across space.
Over the next four years, Bekah, a recent high school graduate and a science whiz hoping to go to CalTech, builds the machine in her backyard as a memorial to her father. Unbeknownst to her mother, Bekah attempts to turn it on and send a message to the nearest signal source. During transmission, the machine is damaged and Bekah assumes she has failed. Her machine released a tremendous amount of energy, though, leading Jensen’s team – as well as several angry neighbors – to try and understand what the Lighthouse girl was building.
Jensen and many others converge on the Lighthouse home when a new signal is received in response to Bekah’s transmission, indicating an alien civilization received her message and responded. No one can understand what the new message means, so Jensen tells Bekah she needs to help them. The group is silenced when they realize Bekah’s autistic young brother, Eddie, is in the backyard having a face-to-face conversation with an alien! Eddie has been listening to radio static for years, which has been akin to him listening to intergalactic radio. Bekah inadvertently invited the alien civilization to visit, so when a single alien arrives, Eddie is able to speak to it.
When the alien is “speaking” with Eddie, the sheriff alerts the government, which raids them and takes the alien back to the underground facilities of Harris Creek. The alien is morose and the officials cannot communicate, so they have to enlist Eddie to speak to it. Eddie, who can only speak through an iPad, lets the officials know that the alien is just a teenager who “stole” his parents’ space ship. Eddie and the alien become friends, and we almost get the feeling the alien is either similar to Eddie, or Eddie has evolved to a higher form of life.
Bekah helps the government builds a much more powerful communication device. She doesn’t realize that the government has ill-intentions and wants to create offensive weapons. When the machine is complete, she is removed from the facility. Bekah recruits the help of her mother – a former astronomy professor – and her friends to hack into the system to start sending messages to the alien civilization. Through her messages, she alerts the alien’s parents of its whereabouts.
The government is suspicious of Eddie and starts treating him like an enemy, but they want to prevent a rescue mission, or worse, an invasion. The government cannot communicate with Eddie, though, and must reenlist Bekah and her mother can do that. Through this process, Bekah learns Dr. Jensen had alerted the military of her father’s blueprints, which attempted to steal them, resulting in the car accident. Dr. Jensen feels guilty that he caused the death of his friend, and comes clean. Bekah and Dr. Jensen work together to prevent the military from weaponizing her machine.
The alien’s parents arrive, but the government thinks it’s an invasion. Eddie helps them communicate, and they realize they not only want to rescue their son, but warn Earth against broadcasting transmissions across the universe. The military won’t listen, though, and it leads to an actual invasion from a larger alien civilization. Eddie’s alien and its family had been refugees, looking for a new home. Eddie and the alien help convey a strategy to fend off the invasion.
Bekah helps reconfigure the machine to become a weapon, taking out the alien ship. They then send a message across space to say the Earth is dying, which caused the ship’s demise. Earth is saved because of the communication between Eddie and the alien. Now that the world knows about these other civilizations, though, the government wants to explore further. By altering machine, Bekah gives the military the ability to send ships through space and we begin to explore the cosmos.