Filed under: aliens
In August 1977, a sky survey conducted with Ohio State University’s “Big Ear” radio telescope found what has become known as the ‘Wow’ signal. Registering an enormous signal strength (60 Janskys in a 10 KHz channel, which is more than 50 thousand times more incoming energy than the minimum signal that would register as a hit for today’s Project Phoenix.). The shape of the signal had the characteristic rise and fall expected for its short 72 second lifetime. But a hitch remains: the signal has not been retrieved from other sky surveys, making it more anomaly than confirmable cosmic source. This odd, one-beam behavior could be caused by an alien transmission that simply went off the air during the 3 minutes between beams.
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Sunday Magazine section, September 18, 1994
As he had done a thousand times, Jerry Ehman glanced over the Big Ear’s computer printouts, not really expecting to find anything unusual.
But what Ehman saw on that Aug. 15, 1977 – and his startled reaction – would be recorded in radio astronomy textbooks and discussed by researchers to this day.
Explanation of the Code “6EQUJ5”
On the Wow! Computer Printout
By Jerry Ehman
Each of the first 50 columns of the computer printout shows the successive values of intensity (or power) received from the Big Ear radio telescope in each channel (10 kHz wide) in successive 12-second intervals (10 seconds was used for actual sampling and another approximately 2 seconds was needed for computer processing). In order to conserve space on the printout, Bob Dixon and I decided to use a coding method that would result in only one alphanumeric (i.e., either alphabetic or numeric) character for each intensity. The computer was programmed to keep a continuously-updated account for each channel of a baseline value and an rms value (rms stands for “root mean square”, which is equivalent to the statistical term “standard deviation”). The actual intensity (after the baseline value was subtracted out) was then divided by the rms value to obtain a scaled value (i.e., the number of standard deviations above the baseline). Since there was space for only one character to be displayed, we decided to take only the integer value of this scaled intensity for values in the range 0 to 9.999… . The truncated value of zero was printed as a blank (space). The truncated value of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 were printed directly. For scaled intensities of 10 to 35, inclusive, the capital letters of the alphabet were used. Thus a truncated value of 10 was printed as an “A”, 11 as a “B”, etc. If the scaled intensity ever got to 36.0 or above, the program would simply start over again at zero (e.g., a truncated value of 38 would be printed the same as that of 38-35=3, namely a “3”).
Thus, the “6EQUJ5” code in channel 2 means successive intensities as follows:
6 –> the range 6.0 – 6.999…
E –> the range 14.0 – 14.999…
Q –> the range 26.0 – 26.999…
U –> the range 30.0 – 30.999…
J –> the range 19.0 – 19.999…
5 –> the range 5.0 – 5.999…
The value “U”, meaning the range 30.0 – 30.999…, was the largest value ever seen. We do not believe that the intensity ever got above 31.0 and hence no rollover (subtraction of 35) ever occurred. It would have been easy to spot in a sequence of 6 or 7 numbers that should follow the antenna pattern of the telescope.
The six successive values in channel 2 fit the antenna pattern of Big Ear very well. I have also done a correlation analysis of the six data points with the mathematical functions: (1) gaussian = normal curve; and (2)(sin(x)/x)^2. The data fit each of those two functions very well with correlation coefficients of over 0.99 (i.e., almost a perfect fit). I also fit the data to each of the two actual antenna patterns (of the two horns) using the moderately strong radio source OY372. The correlation coefficients were again over 0.99. There was not enough difference between the two correlation coefficients to determine which horn the Wow! source was received in.
The Columbus man saw a signal so strong that it catapulted the Big Ear’s recording device off the chart. An excited Ehman scribbled “Wow!” on the printout, a tag that is indelibly linked to the recording.
“I mean, without thinking, I wrote ‘Wow!’ ” Ehman recalls. “It was the most significant thing we had seen.”
Could it be man’s first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence? Ohio State University researchers weren’t sure. They trained the massive scope on that part of the sky for the next month, and have returned periodically since.
The signal hasn’t been recorded again. And although many point to it as a possible extraterrestrial intelligence sighting,
When we look at the stars in our sky, we see them “twinkling”. That twinkling is due to each photon coming from the point source experiencing a slightly different travel path on the way to our eyes than other photons. The earth’s atmosphere accounts for nearly all of the differences imposed on these photons. We do not see the planets twinkle because a planet has an observable angular diameter and the effects applied to the photons from the various directions of the planet tend to average out.
When radio and optical waves travel through the interstellar medium (which is somewhat like our atmosphere except much more rarefied), those waves (photons) experience a kind of twinkling effect called “interstellar scintillation”. It is possible for there to be an enhancement of the signal passing through this interstellar medium due to a partial coherence effect. If this effect did occur for the Wow! source, it still points to a signal originating many light-years away from us, thus tending to give more support for the hypothesis of a signal of an extraterrestrial origin.
ETI (ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence)
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”.