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Question About the Wow! Signal from 1977

  1. Mar 29, 2012 #1
    Hi all, I am a longtime enthusiast for SETI and believer in extra-terrestrial life and intelligence. I became fascinated by it when I saw "Cosmos" by the late great Carl Sagan. The universe is a HUGE place. There must be many more lifeforms on other worlds out there. There are more galaxies than grains of sand on Earth. In each of those galaxies, there are 200 billion or so starts. Many of these galaxies are far older and immensely far away. Our own Milky Way Galaxy has some 200 billion or so stars, and is 200,000 or so light years across! We on the Earth have been emitting radio waves for 60 years or so into space. So, our earliest broadcasts are now reaching stars 60 light years or so away. That's a pretty small distance in cosmic terms! We, via SETI, have only been listening for extra-terrestrial signals for about 50 years, again, a very small amount of time.

    In all of this time, there has been one incident that stands out of a possible, tantalizing example of an artificial, advanced signal, which was the "Wow"! signal, detected on August 16, 1977 by the Big Ear Telescope in Ohio. The signal lasted 72 seconds and was on the correct frequency that scientists expected an artificial to be on. Although numerous searches were made by more powerful telescopes, the signal was never detected again. I heard someone say that it was like throwing a fishing line in the water, and feeling a tug, not exactly knowing what caused it, but not conclusively ruling out anything man-made! I have always been so fascinated by the wow signal and its possible implications. I think scientists said that the region of space it came from did not have planets? Perhaps it came from a planet that has since been destroyed? Or perhaps it came from a travelling spacecraft of some kind? I think the signal was about 200 light years away, is this correct?

    Granted, you need extraordinary evidence to backup extraordinary claims, but the wow signal has never been definatively ruled out as an extra-terrestrial one! So now, with the Allen Telescope Array being used to search for advanced radio signals, does anyone know if they will be doing new targeted searches in the signal's region? It seems that they would want to devote major telescope time to trying to further explain the signal. Personally, I don't think that just because we could not relocate the signal, this necessarily means anything..Maybe if it was made by an alien race, it was just an initial pulse of some kind to get someone's attention...When the signal was made, if it was 200 light years away, there would have been no signs that advanced life existed on earth, since it was 200 years ago..Maybe they weren't trying to contact anyone in particular, maybe they were just sending out a general, pronounced pulse, kind of like a car blowing its horn...At any rate, I think we should keep searching that vicinity of the sky, it is our most tantalizing evidence to date of possible alien origin....And as the Allen Array searches more, I think our chances of detecting more distant signals will increase...Very exciting stuff indeed!
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 29, 2012 #2


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    Since the signal was only observed once, I don't think we have any idea from how far away it came. It might have come from somewhere here on Earth, or anywhere out in space.
  4. Mar 30, 2012 #3


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    Perhaps 'someone' answered the call.
  5. Apr 1, 2012 #4
    It has never repeated, nor anything else has been heard. You'd suppose that if millions of planets did have life, and radio and TV, some type of signal, or show, or beacon, would have been heard by now.
    Any aliens 10,000 years ahead of us would have been here by now. No alien colonies, or visitors, or tourists, or signals, proves no intelligent aliens exist. Ifcourse, there might be ants, birds, fish, microbes, but no creatures as in Star Trek.
  6. Apr 1, 2012 #5
    Look up Fermi Paradox.
  7. Apr 3, 2012 #6
    If there were intelligent species capable of light travel or simply observing our existence, do you think they would immediately jump to do without any thought beforehand to the effects of that action?

    I think it's completely understandable that we haven't been contacted by intelligence away from our own planet. As a whole, we haven't even begun to understand that war is destructive and only harms our possibility of enjoying and understanding our world. We haven't even begun to understand that peace and sharing builds and encourages our enjoyment and understanding to grow.

    Perhaps then when our species begins to understand the very simple concept of peace and harmony, and also of honor and decency, will extra terrestrial intelligence seek to contact us.
  8. Apr 8, 2012 #7

    August 15, 1977 - The Wow! signal was a strong narrowband radio signal detected by Dr. Jerry R. Ehman at 11:16 p.m..

    August 16, 1977 - The United States detonates three thermonuclear bombs in Operation Fulcrum at 5:41 a.m. - Gruyere, Gruyere-Gradino, Flotost - < 20 kilotons.

    The radiation originated from the Hydrogen Line spectrum as a result of Tritium decay from these three hot thermonuclear weapons. The radiation was probably reflected back to Earth from an asteroid in space.

    Wow! signal---- 1420.4556 MHz (J. R. Ehman)
    Hydrogen Line - 1420.40575177 MHz

    Wow! signal - Wikipedia
    Hydrogen line - Wikipedia
    Operation Fulcrum - Wikipedia
    Nuclear Test Data - Office of Scientific and Technical Information, United States Department of Energy
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2012
  9. Apr 8, 2012 #8
    With a brief overview of that information and its encompassing evidence, it seems that the possibility of the Wow! signal being other intellegent life as rather slim. Personally, I feel that the possibility, even slim, sparked a curiousity among many people. I'd only heard about it a few times but I never picked up on it.
  10. Apr 8, 2012 #9
    But aliens don't necessarily have to contact us. If their utilizing some form of electromagnetic radiation traveling at the speed of light to transmit information, in some manner, we should of heard it by now (assuming they're so many thousands of light years away).

    I can adhere to the argument that life, of some sort, is abundant. But even that is still serious speculation. Finding some type of microbial life in our solar system would seriously shift perception on this notion.

    However there's still the possibility that intelligent life is so rare, we may never establish contact. If there's one thing I've learned about learning the historical context of science... our assumptions are always wrong.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2012
  11. Apr 8, 2012 #10


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    Orion1 dont you see the problem with the time line there ?? lol

    the WOW signal was detected hours BEFORE the detonations NOT after the detonations !!
    sorta shoots that theory down in flames ;)

  12. Apr 9, 2012 #11

    There is a three hour time zone difference between the Perkins Observatory, Delaware, Ohio and the Nevada Test Site.

    According to reference 1 - p. 84, the detonation times at the Nevada Test Site were:
    4:41 a.m - 14:41:00.6 - Flotost
    5:49 a.m. - 15:49:00.3 - Gruyere, Gruyere-Gradino

    The Wow! signal was detected at 11:16 p.m. on 08/15/77 in Ohio and places the time of radiation emission at 8:16 p.m. on 08/15/77 in Nevada.

    This would have placed the detonation times at 7:41 a.m. and 8:49 a.m. on 08/16/77 in Ohio.

    The Hydrogen Line radiation would probably not be detected at time of detonation because it was an underground nuclear test and the Tritium fuel would have been all exhausted. The differences in the timelines is explained if the scientists at the Nevada Test Site were working in 'shifts', and the three nuclear devices were using 'Tritium boosting' or 'Tritium thermonuclear' prototype configurations and emitting high levels of Tritium beta decay Hydrogen Line radiation as they were being moved to the underground test site during these shifts.

    The real test of this theory is to prove or disprove that Tritium emits Hydrogen Line radiation during radioactive beta decay, and if these nuclear devices were using Tritium in their nuclear prototype designs.

    Worldwide Nuclear Explosions - Columbia University - Xiaoping Yang, Robert North, and Carl Romney
    Nuclear Test Data - Office of Scientific and Technical Information, United States Department of Energy
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2012
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