Jerry R. Ehman, the Wow! Signal and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

The Wow! signal. The original printout with Ehman's handwritten exclamation is preserved by Ohio History Connection

The Wow! signal. The original printout with Ehman’s handwritten exclamation is preserved by Ohio History Connection

On August 15, 1977, a strong narrowband radio signal was received by the Big Ear radio telescope of the Ohio State University, United States, then assigned to a SETI project. Astronomer Jerry R. Ehman discovered the signal a few days later, while reviewing the recorded data and was so impressed that he circled the reading on the computer printout and wrote the comment Wow! on its side.

Jerry R. Ehman received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Buffalo in 1961, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1963 and 1969, respectively. In the later 1960s, Ehman began working as a radio astronomer with the Big Ear radio telescope and also as a faculty member in the Ohio State University Department of Electrical Engineering. [1] He was later appointed professor at the university, and in 1977, Ehman analyzed large amounts of data (by hand), processed by an IBM 1130 mainframe computer and printed on perforated paper. While checking through the data, Ehman came across the famous Wow! signal. [2]

During the early 1970s, the Ohio State University assigned the Big Ear telescope, back then located near the Perkins Observatory in Delaware, Ohio, to the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Already in 1959, the Cornell physicists Philip Morrison and Giuseppe Cocconi speculated that extra extraterrestrial civilizations attempting to communicate via radio signals might probably use a frequency of 1420 megahertz, which is naturally emitted by hydrogen, the most common element in the universe and therefore familiar to all its inhabitants. [2]

The sequence circled by Ehman, 6EQUJ5, represents the intensity variation of the radio signal over time, measured as unitless signal-to-noise ratio and ranging from 0 to 36, with the noise averaged over the previous few minutes. As previously predicted by Morrison and Cocconi the signal’s frequency was close to the value of 1420.41 MHz. [3]

But where did the signal come from? To the explanations belongs the interstellar scintillation of a weaker continuous signal — similar in effect to atmospheric twinkling, another a rotating lighthouse-like source, or a one-time burst. [4] Further research indicated that an Earth-borne signal to be very unlikely and Ehman came to believe that the most likely explanation for the signal is from an extraterrestrial civilization. Other researchers proposed that the diffuse head of a comet approaching the Sun could produce HI emissions like the Wow! signal, and identified a pair of comets that were in the right area of the sky by extrapolating the orbits back to the 1977 date. The paper acknowledges the hypothesis must be tested, including the detail that only one of the feed horns detected the signal which is an issue for any long-lived emission source. [5][6] On January 25, 2017, the renewed passage of “266P/Christensen” offered a review of his theory. As a result of this observation and comparative studies on other 1420 MHz sources, astronomer Antonio Paris and his team concluded that the cloud of the comet was the source of the Wow! signal.

Several attempts were made by Ehman as well as by other astronomers to detect and identify the signal again, which never happened. The longest SETI search program to date was conducted at the Big Ear from 1973 to 1995. After almost 40 years of operation, the telescope was dismantled in 1998, the site was sold and then used as a golf course.

At yovisto academic video search you can learn more about “What it takes to do extreme astrophysics” in a TED Talk by Anil Ananthaswamy.

References and Further Reading:

2 comments

  • The reason this signal remains a mystery until today is because people are waiting for scientist to come up with an explication, the problem is that it was not destined to them, if you want a breakthrough about this issue I AM THE WRIGHT PERSON TO TALK TO!
    rachidelbouazzati@gmail.com

    Reply
  • This signal was a message for us and transmitted over broadcast radio 2 months later (Jerry Ehmans WOW signal)
    No one pays attention or dismissed as null

    Col.Donald Ware, U.S. Air Force (ret.) passes on this reminder of the time 27 years ago when the Star Visitors took over a British television program and broadcasted instead an important message for the people of Earth.
    [The transmission] occurred on 26 Nov 77 at 5:12 p.m. when a strange unknown voice overrode, took over, or super-modulated the TV signals from five transmitters that were monitored by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) in England. IBA did not detect the intrusion. The 5+1/2-minute message overrode a scheduled newscast read by Ivor Mills on Southern ITV, England, and was heard by listeners as far away as Andover, London, Newbury, Oxford, Reading, Southhampton, and Winchester.
    IBA engineers at Croydon, Surry did not hear the override, and at the main transmitter at Southhampton, Hants monitoring system, there was also no evidence of the takeover. A police spokesman told AP and UPI that the message was taken seriously:
    “They were frightened and generally scared.”
    The voice spoke slowly and deliberately, with a strange inward authority, calm, serene, never scolding. It said:
    This is the voice of Gramaha, the Representative of the Asta (Ashtar in some texts) Galactic Command speaking to you.

    For many years now you have seen us as lights in the skies. We speak to you now in peace and wisdom as we have done to your brothers and sisters all over this, your planet earth. We come to warn you of the destiny of your race and your worlds so that you may communicate to your fellow beings the course you must take to avoid the disasters which threaten your worlds and the beings on our worlds around you.

    This is in order that you may share in the great awakening, as the planet passes into the New Age of Aquarius. The new age can be a time of great peace and evolution for your race, but only if your rulers are made aware of the evil forces that can overshadow their judgments.

    Be still now and listen, for your chance may not come again. For many years your scientists, governments and generals have not heeded our warnings; they have continued to experiment with the evil forces of what you call nuclear energy. Atomic bombs can destroy the earth and the beings of your sister worlds, in a moment.

    The wastes from atomic power systems will poison your planet for many thousands of your years to come. We, who have followed the path of evolution for far longer than you, have long since realized this — that atomic energy is always directed against life. It has no peaceful application. Its use, and research into its use, must be ceased at once, or you all risk destruction. All weapons of evil must be removed.

    The time of conflict is now past and the race of which you are a part may proceed to the highest planes of evolution if you show yourselves worthy to do this.

    You have but a short time to learn to live together in peace and goodwill. Small groups all over the planet are learning this, and exist to pass on the light of the dawning new age to you all. You are free to accept or reject their teachings, but only those who learn to live in peace will pass to the higher realms of spiritual evolution.

    Hear now the voice of Gramaha, the representative of the Asta (Ashtar in some texts) Galactic Command speaking to you. Be aware also that there are many false prophets and guides operating on your world. They will suck your energy from you — the energy you call money and will put it to evil ends giving you worthless dross in return.

    Your inner divine self will protect you from this. You must learn to be sensitive to the voice within, that can tell you what is truth, and what is confusion, chaos and untruth. Learn to listen to the voice of truth which is within you, and you will lead yourselves on to the path of evolution.
    This is our message to you our dear friends. We have watched you growing for many years as you too have watched our lights in your skies. You know that we are here, and that there are more beings on and around your earth than your scientists admit. We are deeply concerned about you and your path towards the light, and will do all we can to help you.
    Have no fears, seek only to know yourselves and live in harmony with the ways of your planet earth. We of the Asta Galactic Command thank you for your attention. We are now leaving the planes of your existence.
    May you be blessed by the supreme love and truth of the Cosmos.

    Southern Television broadcast interruption – Wikipedia
    Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern

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