The 72 Second Mysterious Radio Signal from Space

Back in 1977, Ohio State University was using their Big Ear radio telescope for the search for intelligent life out in the universe. Now, you have to know that this was all the rage at the time, and every magazine rack in the country had at least one or two issues of something regarding UFOs, crop circles, and the Bermuda Triangle. So it is easy to understand that the search for E.T was on. But the effort had proved to be fruitless. That is, until one day on August 15, 1977, when a 72-second mysterious radio signal was received.

The Mysterious Radio Signal Is Discovered

The mysterious radio signal as it was discovered on the printout by Astronomer Jerry R. Ehman.

On that day, Big Ear picked up a signal that defied explanation. Now, this wasn’t even known at the time it was recorded, and it wasn’t until two days later that the anomaly was even discovered.  At that time, astronomer Jerry R. Ehman was going over the recorded data, looking for anything that didn’t belong in the noise.

Wow! Signal profile (Diagram CC BY-SA 3.0 Maxrossomachin )

When Jerry found the signal, he got excited. So excited, in fact, that he wrote the word “WOW” on the side of a printout for the signal. And from that quick scribble by a dedicated astronomer, we now have the name by which everyone refers to this amazing mystery – the Wow! signal.

The Wow! Signal

Approximate origin of the Wow! signal in the Sagittarius constellation. (Diagram: CC BY-SA 3.0 Benjamin Crowell)

The mysterious radio signal appeared to have originated from the Sagittarius constellation, and it bore the signs that were expected for intelligent life. That is, the radio signal was received in the frequency range of 1420 MHz, which is the frequency naturally transmitted by hydrogen. Since this is the most common element in the universe, it is theorized that intelligent life would know this and use this frequency in any attempt to contact other species.

Never Repeated

Although there were many other attempts by Ehman to capture more of the signal in the months to follow, the signal never reappeared. Years later in 1987, attempts the META array at Oak Ridge Observatory failed to detect a signal.  And in July 1995 scans of the Sagittarius constellation made by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory failed to find any new signals.

There have been other later attempts, using such sensitive equipment as the Very Large Array, a system many times more sensitive that Big Ears.  Unfortunately,  all have failed. Even as we send spacecraft out to search the universe, there has been no followup signal received. The signal simply never repeated.

Defies Explanation

There have been attempts to explain the signal, but nothing has been accepted as concrete. There appears to be no natural or man-made source for it. A terrestrial source has been all but completely ruled out. The spectrum around the signal was not in use by earthbound radio equipment, with the frequency range naturally reserved for astronomical studies.

If it did have an explanation, chances are that it would have re-occurred by now. This is especially true if it originated on Earth. But for over forty years there has not been any trace of a signal.

But you have to consider that we are talking about astronomical time references here. Light itself taking eons to travel to the earth. The time span from 1977 to today is but a brief moment in comparison. With that said, I am not convinced that there isn’t more to find from that area of space. You could even say that we went out looking for some proof of extraterrestrial intelligent life in the universe and found it. Now we just need to repeat it for validation.

Big Ear and SETI
The Big Ear radio telescope was used to search for extraterrestrial radio signals from 1973 to 1995, making it the longest running SETI project in history.

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