The mysterious WOW Signal, an event in 1977 when astronomers received a powerful blast of radio waves that lasted 72 seconds and seriously considered the possibility of an advanced alien communication, may finally be explained after nearly forty years, says Professor Antonio Paris, Associate Professor of Astronomy at St. Petersburg College in Florida, USA.
However, alien enthusiasts may be in for a huge disappointment. All evidence is suggesting that the signal came from comets.
Dr. Ehman detected a surprising vertical column with the alphanumerical sequence ‘6EQUJ5’ that had been recorded at 22:16 EST. He encircled the sequence and wrote ‘Wow!’ in the margin of the prinout. (Image: Wikipedia)
Wow! Signal cold case
Prof. Paris, who was once an analyst with the US Department of Defence, is pursuing an astrophysical ‘cold case’, which has had more people across the world pointing to an advanced extraterrestrial civilization as a possible explanation than any other event in history.
In 1977, something happened that stopped astronomers in their tracks and had the world gleefully at tenterhooks, hoping that what had just occurred was a prelude to further contact with intelligent life forms from another world.
On 15th August, 1977, Jerry R. Ehman was working on a SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) project at the Big Ear radio telescope of The Ohio State University. While sweeping the skies for possible signals from alien civilisations he found something.
He received a powerful blast of radio waves that had the expected hallmarks of non-Solar System and non-terrestrial origin. The signal, which lasted 72 seconds, appeared to have originated from the northwest of the globular cluster M55 near the Chi Saagittarii star group, in the constellation Sagittarius.
The origin of the Wow! Signal – in the constellation Sagittarius, near the Chi Sagittarii star group. Scientists say the location may lie in either one of the two red bands. Most people hope it was sent to us by intelligent aliens. (Image: Wikipedia)
Dr. Ehman circled the readout, breathed a deep sigh of excitement and trepidation, and wrote ‘Wow!’ next the circle. Today, it is known as the Wow! Signal.
After carefully analyzing the signal, scientists said it most likely came from interstellar space. The event excited widespread interested and became something of a cause célèbre for individuals involved in SETI, as well as lay people with an above-average level of curiosity.
Enigma never solved
Frustratingly, however, in spite of several attempts, the signal or anything like it has never been detected again, and therefore remains an unexplained mystery – that is, perhaps until now, thanks to Prof. Paris’ work.
Prof. Paris became fascinated by the Wow! signal enigma, and decided to try to find an explanation by ‘going back to the crime scene’.
During a Skype interview with Stuart Clark from the Guardian, Prof. Paris said:
“I have this investigative background, so I approached the ‘Wow!’ signal as I’m going back to the crime scene. It’s a cold case, so I went to various [astronomical] databases to find culprits or suspects that were at this crime scene at the time.”
His investigation did not lead him to any exciting aliens, but rather two suspicious-looking comets – 335P/Gibbs and 266P/Christensen.
Prof. Antonio Paris (above) says most evidence suggests the Wow! Signal came from comets rather than smart aliens. (Image: amazon.com)
Two likely culprits – comets
The two comets were discovered in 2008 and 2006 respectively, and had never been investigated thoroughly. After gathering and analyzing data on them, Prof. Paris found that on 15th August 1977, when we received the Wow! signal, they were both in the vicinity of Chi Sagittarii. That is where scientists believe the Wow! signal came from.
Comets are surrounded by colossal hydrogen clouds, millions of miles across. Dr. Ehman detected the Wow! signal at 1420MHz – a radio frequency that hydrogen emits naturally.
In an Abstract published on 1st January this year in The Center for Planetary Science, Prof. Paris wrote:
“These two comets were not detected until after 2006, therefore, the comets and/or their hydrogen clouds were not accounted for during the “Wow” signal emission.”
“Because the frequency for the “Wow” signal fell close to the hydrogen line, and the hydrogen clouds of 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) were in the proximity of the right ascension and declination values of the “Wow” signal, the comet(s) and/or their hydrogen clouds are strong candidates for the source of the 1977 “Wow” signal.”
Prof. Paris’ chances of raising the money to buy the equipment to confirm his hypothesis look promising. (Image: gofundme.com)
Prof. Paris says that he cannot solve this cold case until he can test his hypothesis, and in order to do that he needs public support.
On 25th January 2017, comet 266P/Christensen will be back in the vicinity of the Chi Sagittarii star group again. 335P/Gibbs will be making its way through the same vicinity on 7th January 2018.
Crowdfunding campaign to buy a telescope
Prof. Paris plans to see if he can detect the mystery signal again when the two comets are back where they were in 1977. Unfortunately, there is no free slot in any existing radio telescope – they are all fully booked.
One way to search the skies for hours on end without having to worry about making a reservation is to get his own radio telescope – an effective one costs about $17,000 (£11,958). So, he has launched a crowdfunding campaign – gofundme – to raise the money for the telescope.
Prof. Paris’ proposal is clearly a popular one, because money is pouring in and he will soon hit his target.
Prof. Paris told the Guardian that he would like to have reached his target by May 2016, so that he can have the radio telescope ready by October. He will then have enough time to construct the dish, test it and be fully prepared for the January encounter.
While some scientists and lay people hope Prof. Paris’ hypothesis proves to be right, others are hoping it is not. If the Wow! signal did come from comets, then we are back to square one, i.e. it did not come from super-advanced aliens.
Prof. Paris would like to raise enough money to buy something similar to the Spider500P parabolic radio telescope, which is capable of recording radio waves coming in from outer space at 1.42 GHz.
The telescope will be installed at the St. Petersburg College campus and will be transported in the university’s mobile observatory.
The crowdfunding will be used to buy:
-Peir and Mount
-1.42 GHz Receiver with Fiber Optic Cable
-Laptop for Data Analysis
-Trailer to move telescope
-Feed Horns and Low Noise Amplifier
Video – Has Prof. Paris solved the Wow! Signal mystery?