A Signal from Deep Space? - August 15th, 1977

Drogheda445

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Today marks the 40th anniversary of an Ohio radio telescope's detection of a mysterious signal, later dubbed the WOW! signal. The "Big Ear" telescope at Ohio State University, built in 1961 to search for potential alien radio sources, was used as part of an overall Ohio Sky Survey that had actually had its funding cut by a Congressional vote in 1972. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, popularly known as SETI, had begun to be taken seriously in the early 1960s with Frank Drake of Cornell University Pioneering the movement, and the Big Ear telescope was the first such telescope built and used by the SETI movement. After years of operation and nothing of note detected, the initial enthusiasm for the search had dimmed somewhat.

Jerry Ehman, a SETI volunteer, spotted a pattern in the data collected by the radio telescope around 10PM Eastern Time that astonished him and his colleagues. A sudden short burst of energy had been picked up by the telescope over a 72 second period. On the printed sheet, spaces between characters symbolised the weakest signals against background noise (less than 1), with the numbers one through to 9 symbolising higher values, and letters from A onwards being used for even higher values. What was detected was a signal far more powerful than anything that would usually be expected to occur naturally; "6EQUJ5": The signal peak registered as a U, more than thirty times more intense than the usual background noise. The continuous nature of the signal (over a 72 second period, the amount of time that the telescope would be pointing at at any given area of space) and its remarkable strength convinced Ehman that it was very likely to be proof of extraterrestrial intelligence (one with at least very powerful radio transmissions). He was so taken aback by the data that he circled it and wrote "Wow!" in the margin, hence the name.



The phenomenon reignited interest in the SETI phenomenon and their search seemed to have finally paid off. The signal bore all the hallmarks of sapient and advanced alien life, the discovery of which would have been the greatest find in scientific history, and a profoundly important event in human history. But in order to confirm the signal, follow up searches would be needed to establish that it was definitely a continuous signal from a real source. For weeks the Big Ear telescope and others observed the same point in the sky, but the signal Wow signal was nowhere to be found. Searches for the signal have continued for decades and it hasn't been heard since, baffling scientists and SETI enthusiasts the world over.

What could it have been?

A number of explanations have been put forward to explain it; some suggest that it may have originated from Earth and bounced off of space debris, but the bandwidth of the signal is equivalent to 1420 MHz which is within a protected spectrum of signals that land based transmitters are forbidden to use, being reserved for astronomical purposes. Others have suggested that it might originate in the hydrogen cloud of a nearby comet, but others have countered this by explaining that comets do not give off radio signals at the frequency measured in the WOW signal.

The signal was detected roughly in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius, and should it have come from deep space, it most likely took hundreds of light years to reach Earth. Whoever sent it would have transmitted it hundreds of years ago, certainly many centuries before mankind would have acquired radio technology. Similarly if we were to reply, it would take hundreds of years for it to reach the other end. Such are the impracticalities of radio wave communication across the universe. It is worth pointing out however that the signal itself contained no encoded information, and hence was probably a random burst of radio energy if anything (perhaps from a lighthouse like source that appeared in our skies only momentarily).

The search continues, despite the half a century of continuous, unsuccessful searching, but the WOW signal provides constant speculation and hope that intelligence may be out there. SETI enthusiasts are however optimistic that with constantly refined instrument of radio astronomy, and financial support from such high profile scientific figures as Stephen Hawking, that gold may be struck soon. In the words of another SETI enthusiast, "somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
 


galteeman

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Most likely the aliens who are observing us are blocking signals which might freak us out. Prime Directive etc.
 

Socratus O' Pericles

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40th Anniversary?

[video=youtube;-updr7jecPY]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-updr7jecPY[/video]
 

firefly123

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As an aside I went to see the "The farthest" Documentary about the voyager program in the Lighthouse cinema recently. Absolutely gorgeous to watch on a big screen but its the scientists involved who steal the show. All elderly now and all massively enthusiastic still.

If you get the chance go. The late 70's seems to have been a time of great optimism in astronomy.
 

Surkov

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Even if there is an alien race somewhere they would be too far away to be able to travel even a tiny fraction of the distance it would take to reach us. And seriously, why would they even bother? Think about it.

And perhaps it's just as well....

[video=youtube;LjLamj-b0I8]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjLamj-b0I8[/video]
 

Zapped(CAPITALISMROTS)

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As an aside I went to see the "The farthest" Documentary about the voyager program in the Lighthouse cinema recently. Absolutely gorgeous to watch on a big screen but its the scientists involved who steal the show. All elderly now and all massively enthusiastic still.

If you get the chance go. The late 70's seems to have been a time of great optimism in astronomy.
Late 70s was a great time of optimism compared to where we find ourselves today in August 2017....:|
 

PBP voter

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Elvis died the next day.

Coincidence?
 

gerhard dengler

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Let's not forget Elvis who died the next day. A spooky coincidence!
Aye.

A very interesting OP.

A 72 second sound detected and heard in one sliver of the Universe during this day 40 years ago, and no sound detected from that very same sector since then.

Does 72 second time-frame in a Universe which is said to be 15 billion years old, give this event a bit more context?

I presume the Ohio listening devise pans sections of the Universe at regular intervals?
 

Drogheda445

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Aye.

A very interesting OP.

A 72 second sound detected and heard in one sliver of the Universe during this day 40 years ago, and no sound detected from that very same sector since then.

Does 72 second time-frame in a Universe which is said to be 15 billion years old, give this event a bit more context?

I presume the Ohio listening devise pans sections of the Universe at regular intervals?
As I understand it, the telescope (which isn't in use anymore) was only built for inclination, meaning it could only operate by moving up and down in relation to the horizon. It relied on the rotation of the earth to scan different areas of the sky.
 
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As I understand it, the telescope (which isn't in use anymore) was only built for inclination, meaning it could only operate by moving up and down in relation to the horizon. It relied on the rotation of the earth to scan different areas of the sky.
Yup. I wondered at the likelihood of being able to orientate in that direction again. Will the Earth ever be in the same spot again?
 

Mick Mac

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There is some fellow born in that date just wondering to him self is it just a coincidence.
 


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