THE ‘WOW!’ SIGNAL: TO DATE, THE BEST EVIDENCE WE HAVE OF ALIEN INTELLIGENCE

The issue of quantifiable evidence haunts research into paranormal phenomena. Skeptics demand proof – extraordinary proof for extraordinary claims. It is one thing to admit the possibility of microbes and bacteria existing on an alien planet. It is quite another to believe in an advanced extraterrestrial civilization as intelligent – or likely more intelligent – than human beings. Again, where is the proof? Skeptics dismiss such famous cases like the Roswell crash landing or the Rendlesham Forest incident, citing a distinct lack of solid evidence.

But there is proof of alien life. There is the Wow! Signal.

On August 15th, 1977, an astronomer named Jerry Ehman was volunteering his time at Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope, which was part of the SETI project – the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. On that otherwise unremarkable night, Big Ear picked up a signal which lasted for seventy-two seconds and was thirty times more powerful than standard galactic background noise. Astonished by the sophistication of the alphanumeric signal, Ehman scribbled the word ‘wow’ in the side of his computer printout.

The computer printout with "wow" written on the side

Photo taken from theatlantic.com

The Wow! Signal was traced back to the constellation Sagittarius, an area of seemingly empty space. All attempts to detect the signal a second time have failed. Likewise, all attempts to debunk the signal in favor of a more Earth-bound explanation have also failed. This signal was on a special bandwidth reserved exclusively for astronomical research, which no terrestrial satellites or transmitters were capable of accessing. Could it have simply been one of our own signals, then, bounced back off of some passing space debris? Ehman himself long subscribed to this belief, although he later admitted how unlikely it was – the very nature of the transmission denies that possibility.

So why haven’t we found the Wow! Signal again?

There’s a possibility that if an alien civilization is indeed responsible, then the signal may conduct a sweep around its home star or planet – like a cosmic lighthouse – before finally reappearing to us. Unfortunately, the Big Ear telescope was shut down in 1997 after 40 years of operation. With any luck, another telescope, somewhere, will be listening if – and when – that day comes…

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