Jun 08, 2017 I Paul Seaburn

The Mysterious 1977 Wow! Alien Signal Has Been Solved

If a signal once believed to have come from an alien civilization is proven to be something else, can it still be called “Wow!”? Wikipedia and many annals of space and ET phenomenon may have to do some editing after an astronomer proved that a strange and powerful radio signal from space detected in 1977 which elicited a written “Wow!” exclamation on the printout should not have caused a gasp because it was just a gas.

The now famous Wow! signal was discovered by Jerry Ehman while 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. He noted the 72-second blast, which was 30 times stronger than the background radiation, with a big red “Wow!” on the printout and the debate on whether it was a transmission from an intelligent civilization or something else began.

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The Big Ear radio telescope

“It’s aliens!” was leading in the polls until last year, when Professor Antonio Paris, an astronomer at St. Petersburg College in Florida, proposed that the signal had actually been produced by comets passing by the Earth on their seven-year orbits around the Sun. The comets -- 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) which were discovered in 2006 – are surrounded by large hydrogen clouds which are known to produce a signal in the same frequency as Wow!. Scoffers scoffed and demanded that Paris prove their beloved signal was not a call from ET.

That he did. Paris knew that the comets would be in the same position (northwest of the globular cluster M55 in the constellation Sagittarius)  in early 2017 as the Wow! signal's source was on August 15, 1977. He used a GoFundMe page to raise the money to install a dedicated radio telescope at the Center for Planetary Science pointed at the Wow! sweet spot and then waited.

According to his paper published in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, Comet 266P took the wow out of Wow! when its signals matched the Wow! signal. In anticipation of objections, Paris also looked at other comets similar to 266P and found that their hydrogen clouds produced the same frequency signal, so if it wasn’t 266P, Wow! was produced by another gassy comet.

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Blame a comet

What now, Wow! fans? Science wins again. One of the most famous and solid pieces of evidence of alien communications has been proven to be just gas. What’s next? Will Roswell turn out to be something other than aliens as well?

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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