The WOW Signal - Mystery Files
The Finding of The WOW Signal
The date is August 15th, the year is 1974; The location is "The Big Ear" Radio Telescope connected to the Ohio State University. Dr. Jerry R. Ehman was working as a volunteer on a SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), project. "The Big Ear" was scanning the heavens in an attempt to discover any possible radio signals that could be attributed to an extra-terrestrial intelligence.
Night after night the Radio Telescope would traverse the night skies whilst continuously printing out it's findings as long strings of numbers and figures arranged into 50 columns - one for each channel that the machine scanned.
On every other night, the printout had been routine and unremarkable. Tonight however, things were about to change. As Jerry Ehman scanned down the columns of figures that consisted mainly of ones, twos and threes, a column emerged from the printer that literally screamed at him - "6EQUJ5". - The signal exactly matched the expected signature of an interstellar transmission, and was so remarkable that he took out his pen, circled the data and scribbled "WOW" on the printout.
WOW! - Off The Scale!
The signal was everything that they were looking for. It lasted for a full 72 seconds and was so powerful that it sent the "Big Ear's" monitoring apparatus completely off the scale.
The sequence 6QUEJ5 was an indication of the massive strength of the signal. In the system that they were using at the time, the numbers 1 to 9 were used to represent the strength of a signal above background noise. In the unlikely event that the signal was greater than this, then it would be indicated by the letters of the alphabet A - Z
The sequence 6QUEJ5 therefore, indicated that the signal began at strength 6 rising right out of the 1-9 scale, to "U" (almost at the end of the alphabet), before dropping down to strength 5 at the end of the 72 second signal. In all it's fourteen years of operation, this was the most significant signal that the SETI program had received.
Because of the delay between the reception of the signal and it being subsequently found on the printout, it was difficult to pinpoint the exact location, but it was later determined that the source must have been in Sagittarius, 2.5 degrees south of the star Chi Sagittarii.
A number of attempts was made to find the signal again, notably by Robert Gray, utilising the VLA (Very Large Array), observatory in New Mexico in 1987, 1989, 1995 and 1996, but it met with no success.
Extraterrestrial or from Earth?
At first, Ehman thought that there must be some rational explanation for the signal, such as it being Earthly in origin and merely reflected down to the "Big Ear" by a bit of space junk.
However, the pattern of the signal ruled this out. The "Big Ear" Radio Telescope was built into the ground and was not movable. It aimed straight out into space and relied on the rotation of the earth to scan the heavens. The time it took to scan the area that the signal was believed to have come from was exactly 72 seconds - This made it unlikely that the signal could have come from anywhere else.
Another problem was the frequency of the signal - 1420Mhz. This is what's known as a "Protected Spectrum" which means that Earth-based transmitters are not allowed to use it. So where ever the signal originated - It wasn't Earth.
WOW Then and WOW Now.
On the 30tth anniversary of the detection of the WOW signal, Dr. Jerry Ehman was asked to review his opinions and feelings regarding the famous signal.
"Thus, since all of the possibilities of a terrestrial origin have been either ruled out or seem improbable, and since the possibility of an extraterrestrial origin has not been able to be ruled out, I must conclude that an ETI (Extraterrestrial Intelligence) might have sent the signal that we received as the Wow! source. The fact that we saw the signal in only one beam could be due to an ETI sending a beacon signal in our direction and then sending it in another direction that we couldn't detect. Of course, being a scientist, I await the reception of additional signals like the Wow! source that are able to be received and analyzed by many observatories. Thus, I must state that the origin of the Wow! signal is still an open question for me. There is simply too little
data to draw many conclusions. In other words, as I stated above, I choose not to "draw vast conclusions from 'half-vast' data".
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