It’s the mysterious message from outer space that has never been explained. The Wow! Signal – named for the comment written on a paper printout of the strange radio transmission from space – has baffled astronomers, scientists and alien hunters since 1977. Now a new team with a new theory will attempt to recreate the signal and prove its origin. All they need is – you guessed it – money.
On August 15, 1977, volunteer radio astronomer Jerry R. Ehman was working on a SETI project on The Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope located at Ohio Wesleyan University's Perkins Observatory in Delaware, Ohio, when he observed a highly-unusual 72-second signal that looked non-terrestrial and non-Solar System in origin, hydrogen-like (the telescope was searching for signals in the radio spectrum that mimic hydrogen) and appearing to come from the northwest of the globular cluster of M55 in the constellation Sagittarius, near the Chi Sagittarii star group. Ehman circled the odd 6EQUJ5 characters and wrote “Wow!” next to them, thus pushing them and himself into SETI history.
Nearly 40 years later, the Wow! Signal has never been seen again nor has its origin been identified. Satellites, asteroids or planets in that area of the sky have been ruled out. However, a study by astronomers at the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array observatory in New Mexico points to something passing in front of that spot in the sky. But what? (You can say “Aliens!” now)
Antonio Paris, an astronomer at Florida’s St. Petersburg College, has a non-alien theory. When the Wow! Signal was received, two not-yet-discovered comets - 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) — were in the same area of sky. Could one of their hydrogen clouds be the cause of the hydrogen-like 6EQUJ5 Wow! signal?
We may be able to find out because both comets are on their way back for return visits. Comet 266P/Christensen will be back in its 1977 location on January 25, 2017, and Comet P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) hits it on January 7, 2018. If either one of them is observed shedding a massive hydrogen cloud big enough to generate a Wow! signal, well … Wow again!
Paris wants to install a dedicated 5-meter radio telescope at the Center for Planetary Science pointed at the Wow! sweet spot. All he needs is cash – specifically, $12,000 that he hopes to raise with a GoFundMe page. This is not a plug but let’s hope he makes it.
Will the mystery of the Wow! signal finally be solved? Was it a comet? Will aliens block the fund drive? Stay tuned.