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Space Science

Alien 'Wow!' Signal Could Be Explained After Almost 40 Years (theguardian.com) 96

An anonymous reader cites a report on The Guardian: A former analyst with the US Department of Defence is on the trail of a 'cold case' -- an unexplained signal that some believe could have come from extraterrestrials. Way back in 1977 something amazing happened. Astronomer Jerry Ehman was using the Ohio State University's Big Ear radio telescope to sweep the sky for possible signals from extraterrestrial civilisations. He found something. While pointing towards a grouping of stars called Chi Sagittarii on 15 August, he received a powerful blast of radio waves that lasted for 72 seconds. He circled it on the readout and wrote: "Wow!" Analysis of the signal showed that it displayed all the hallmarks of coming from interstellar space, and it became something of a cause celebre for those involved in SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The trouble is that despite numerous attempts, the signal has never been observed again and so remains unexplained. Until now perhaps, thanks to the work of Professor Antonio Paris of St Petersburg College, Florida. Known as 266P/Christensen and 335P/Gibbs, they have never been investigated before because they were only discovered in 2006 and 2008 respectively. Paris found that they were both in the vicinity of Chi Sagittarii on the day that the 'Wow!' signal was detected. This could be significant because comets are surrounded by clouds of hydrogen gas that are millions of kilometres in diameter. Comet 266P/Christensen will pass the Chi Sagittarii star group again on 25 January 2017, while 335P/Gibbs will make its passage on 7 January 2018. Paris plans to observe these events to look for a recurrence of the mystery signal.In some other news, cosmologist and theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking says he doesn't expect the humanity to find intelligent alien life for at least another 20 years.
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Alien 'Wow!' Signal Could Be Explained After Almost 40 Years

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    or we just posting things that could happen? like... slashdot could actually have a good article, the sky could fall, aliens could exist etc...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The answer is actually in the article, so you'll have to go read it to find out. LOL.

      • by wardrich86 ( 4092007 ) on Friday April 15, 2016 @12:45PM (#51915923)
        TL;DR:
        "He didn’t find aliens but he did find two suspicious looking comets.

        Known as 266P/Christensen and 335P/Gibbs, they have never been investigated before because they were only discovered in 2006 and 2008 respectively. Paris found that they were both in the vicinity of Chi Sagittarii on the day that the ‘Wow!’ signal was detected.

        This could be significant because comets are surrounded by clouds of hydrogen gas that are millions of kilometres in diameter. The ‘Wow!’ signal itself was detected by Ehman at 1420MHz, which is a radio frequency that hydrogen naturally emits. He published his idea at the beginning of this year."

        Still TL;DR: It's probably a comet

        Even still TL;DR comet
        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          I believe I've seen more than one documentary that affirmatively stated that the cause was known. I don't remember they said it was a pulsar or a binary system or what. I seem to recall them stating, affirmatively, that it was due to something spinning. Assuming this is the famous WOW signal where they wrote WOW on the printed paper. There's a host of documentaries on the subject or that cover it.

          I'm damned near certain that I've been told that they *knew* what the reason was. I took them at face value, it

        • Thanks, man!
    • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Friday April 15, 2016 @11:42AM (#51915475)
      It's probably a comet - signature matches a lot of hydrogen, and a couple of nearby comets fit the bill with their unusually massive clouds of it.
    • TLDR; They think it was two comets in that region of the sky with lots of hydrogen gas around them, The hz range matches what you would expect from hydrogen gas. The 2 comets were undiscovered until now.

      Sounds like a swamp gas explanation but probably the most probable seeing as we have never found a signal like the "wow!" signal.

    • by Coisiche ( 2000870 ) on Friday April 15, 2016 @11:47AM (#51915515)

      It's not the done thing to read the articles I know.

      Essentially, it's been suggested that the event was caused by two comets that were undiscovered at the time. Their next passes are due soon and proposer of the hypothesis is requesting funds to buy radio telescope time during the passes. If he gets the funding and finds nothing then we won't have any explanation and can still say it might be aliens.

    • It's just a viral media build up for the next Sharkanado.

  • Comets (Score:5, Informative)

    by Major Blud ( 789630 ) on Friday April 15, 2016 @11:41AM (#51915473) Homepage

    Since the summary failed to state the new hypothesis, here goes:

    Professor Antonio Paris believes that the signal was generated by two comets which were discovered in 2006 and 2008. They were both in the vicinity of Chi Sagittarii when the Wow! signal was emitted. Both of these comets are surrounded by a cloud of hydrogen gas, which emits signals at a frequency of 1420MHz (the same as the Wow! signal).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There are a couple of reasons to be skeptical of this hypothesis.

      Let's say it's possible that a comet can produce enough hydrogen gas to produce such a signal, which isn't certain. Comets aren't exactly rare. Why isn't this observed more frequently?

      Also, comets generally don't move too much in the sky in a span of a day. The Big Ear telescope scanned a fixed portion of the sky, and that window moved as the Earth rotated. Why wasn't the signal observed again 24 hours later?

      It's an interesting hypothesis that

    • The "Big Ear" which discovered the Wow! signal had two feed horn antennae. What's tough to explain is why the other horn didn't pick up the signal. I suppose if the comet were small enough, other horn might not pick it up as it scanned by a few minutes later. Ehman says he re-scanned the area fifty times, after the initial signal. Maybe the comets had moved far enough apart by then?

      Anyhow, the guy is looking for some additional funding so he can go build his own radiotelescope and test his hypothesis

      • Well really, if he thought he'd could prove it was E.T. I'd toss a couple bucks his way but why bother funding a debunking, no fun there.
    • by twdorris ( 29395 )

      I'm new to this thread. Did they update the summary or what? It seems pretty clear to me at this point in time.

      • No, it says there was a signal and now we know about two objects. It lacks a couple critical pieces of information, that the objects are comets and that the comets are actually expected to emit a signal like the one he found!

        That isn't a blank you can expect a typical reader to just know off the top of their head as a given even on a site that is News for Nerds.
      • If they didn't update the summary at some point, there's a lot of people sarcastically quoting lines out of the summary going on.

        Now it explains everything except how comets can generate a radio signal.

  • Alien 'Wow!' Signal Could Be Explained After Almost 40 Years

    And? You've explained what the signal was, but could you not even give a hint as to the possible explanation?

    Okay, so I read up, and it's something to do with some comets. I don't get why the guy has to wait for them to be in the same patch of sky before testing his theory, though.

  • It's an interesting explanation, but the problem with the signal being of extraterrestrial (as in alien) still applies with it being a result of natural phenomenon: There was no repeat. The SETI procedure is take the dish off the signal and try to require. If these comets were moving through the vicinity it would have been possible to reacquire the signal, or at least find some trace of it in that area of the sky.

    I'm not saying that the hypothesis shouldn't be tested, but even if these comets are the sourc

  • Until now perhaps, thanks to the work of Professor Antonio Paris of St Petersburg College, Florida. Known as 266P/Christensen and 335P/Gibbs, they have never been investigated before

    What is missing here? Please fix the summary.

  • for them to find intelligent life on this planet...
  • Stephen Hawking should stick to hard science because he doesn't know what the fuck he is talking about. Namely:

    * "He doesn't know what other people DO know."

    Gee, if only we had credible [youtube.com], witnesses [youtube.com],

    The problem with (official) "First Contact" is that will cause MORE problems then it will solve. :-/ Everything from Mathematics, Money, Religion, Science will need to be re-evaluated. Most people are not ready to have their false belief system blown apart.

    Proof will be given in ~2024 when we can end these stupid

  • Jerry Ehman (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jodka ( 520060 ) on Friday April 15, 2016 @02:19PM (#51916655)

    When I was about 7 years old Jerry Ehman rode down to Kentucky with us in the family station wagon from Powell, Ohio to Kentucky to go spelunking. We lived a few houses down the street from the assistant director of the Big Ear radio observatory who organized the trip and who invited along coworkers and friends. All the radio observatory guys on the trip were full-time radio geeks, including Jerry, who brought his own CB radio on the trip and installed it in our car before we left. This was so we could keep in touch with the other vehicles on the drive down. Jerry had temporarily disconnected our am/fm car radio antenna to wire in his CB. So he is explaining this to me as my father drives down the highway to Kentucky. Being 7, of course I asked "but what if we want to listen to the radio?". Jerry, who was riding in the center of the front bench seat of the station wagon, replies that he can switch back and forth between them. Then he immediately inverts himself in the car seat with his feet up in the air and his head pushed up under the dashboard holding a handful of tools. A few minutes later the car radio is working again.

    By the way, the radio observatory at which Jerry recorded the Wow! signal no longer exits. It was a joint project between Ohio State and Ohio Wesleyan universities. It was constructed and managed by the Ohio State University but located on land owned by Ohio Wesleyan University which sold it to developers to build a golf source. There was an international effort to preserve it, Nobel price winners and other notables campaigned for it. Wesleyan believed that a golf course was much more important than SETI. "Ignorant small-town hicks" would not go far enough to describe that school.

  • The "wow" signal log page is currently on exhibit at the The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, across the street from the Berkeley campus. It's in an exhibit of modern art called "In Space". $12 admission.
  • by Cpt_Kirks ( 37296 ) on Friday April 15, 2016 @03:25PM (#51917179)

    It was a subspace signal from a starship.

    The signal was at the far end of subspace radio range, and had fallen in energy state until it was readable in the RF spectrum.

    The starship was moving, and only in range for a few seconds.

    Duh.

    • I know it's a joke, but I essentially had the same thought when I heard about Hawkins and that Russian billionaire's plan to make marble sized starships and hurl them at Proxima Centauri. I couldn't help thinking how the Tau Cetians, et al, probably already did that to us. How would we ever detect a marble hurling through the solar system? Especially if it's a one-time event? Better yet, what if we caught just a glimpse of a signal it sent back home???

      The point is, if we are at the cusp of such capabilities

A sine curve goes off to infinity, or at least the end of the blackboard. -- Prof. Steiner

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