Tech"Wow!" signal: 45 years later, mystery of space signal endures

"Wow!" signal: 45 years later, mystery of space signal endures

Universe - illustrative photo.
Universe - illustrative photo.
Images source: © ESO | M. Kornmesser

3:16 PM EDT, June 11, 2024

When astronomer Jerry Ehman noticed something unusual on the printout from Ohio State University's radio telescope, he didn't realize that his reaction would go down in history in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The note "Wow!" next to the signal recording became one of the most famous moments in this fascinating journey. Although several hypotheses have emerged since that moment trying to explain the nature of the "Wow!" signal, none have entirely convinced the scientific community, notes IFL Science.

Since the radio telescope was invented in 1932, scientists have constantly searched for signals from space that could indicate the presence of alien civilizations. The commencement of intensive searches by SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) in 1960 opened a new era in this field. However, due to the technical limitations of that era, the number and scope of studies were limited. The situation changed when Ohio State University's radio telescope, "Big Ear," turned its attention to frequencies extraterrestrial civilizations could use.

Unidentified signal from space

On August 15, 1977, while working as a volunteer, Jerry Ehman noticed a signal marked as 6EQUJ5 on the printout, which stood out with intensity unlike any known natural or artificial source. It was at this moment, deciding to circle it in red with the note "Wow!" that the long-term interest in this phenomenon began. Despite intensive research, the source of the signal remains unknown, and its unprecedented characteristics make it one of the most intriguing mysteries in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

The "Wow!" signal remains a mystery
The "Wow!" signal remains a mystery© Big Ear Radio Observatory and North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO), Wikimedia Commons

Since the discovery of the "Wow!" signal, our observational capabilities have significantly expanded, but no similar signal has been detected again. Various hypotheses, from a comet near the detection site to reflections from "space debris" to atmospheric disturbances, have not provided convincing explanations. This mystery provokes speculation in the scientific community and among conspiracy theory enthusiasts who see it as evidence of hidden contact with an extraterrestrial civilization.

Unexplained mystery

The story of the "Wow!" signal still fascinates and inspires searches. As IFL Science emphasizes, despite tremendous technological and scientific advances, this inexplicable anomaly is a reminder of the yet-to-be-explored mysteries of the universe. Was it a momentary anomaly, an elusive signal from a distant civilization, or something that does not yet fit into our understanding of the cosmos? The answer to this question remains open, encouraging further research and exploration of space.

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