Wow! Signal

In mid-August 1977, Jerry Ehman, a volunteer for SETI, or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, may have become the first man ever to receive an intentional message from an alien world. Ehman was scanning radio waves from deep space, hoping to randomly come across a signal that bore the hallmarks of one that might be sent by intelligent aliens, when he saw his measurements spike. It lasted for the full 72-second window that Big Ear was able to observe it, but has not been detected again.

On August 15, a few days earlier, Ehman, pebrused data from the telescope’s scan of the skies. In those days, such information was run through an IBM 1130 mainframe computer and printed on perforated paper, and then laboriously examined by hand. But the tedium was shattered when Ehman spotted something surprising—a vertical column with the alphanumerical sequence “6EQUJ5,” which had occurred at 10:16 p.m. EST. He grabbed a red pen and circled the sequence. In the margin, wrote “Wow!” on the original printout of the signal, thus its title as the "Wow! Signal."
The Wow! Signal

The Big Ear telescope was fixed and used the rotation of the Earth to scan the sky. At the speed of the Earth's rotation, and given the width of the Big Ear's observation "window", the Big Ear could observe any given point for just 72 seconds. A continuous extraterrestrial signal, therefore, would be expected to register for exactly 72 seconds, and the recorded intensity of that signal would show a gradual increase for the first 36 seconds—peaking when the signal reached the center of Big Ear's observation "window"— and then a gradual decrease.

Therefore, both the length of the Wow! signal, 72 seconds, and the shape of the intensity graph may correspond to an extraterrestrial origin.

More than three decades later, the Wow Signal, as it has come to be known to SETI researchers, remains both the first and best potential evidence of communication from extraterrestrials, and one of the most perplexing mysteries in science.  Over the years, Ehman and colleagues worked to rule out other explanations—such as satellites, aircraft or ground-based transmitters on Earth. But by the same token, researchers have yet to prove that it actually is message from space.

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Written By Tripzibit on Feb 11, 2015 | 06:08

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