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Wow! signal from comets, not space aliens?


File:A small cup of coffee.JPG Start the day right with something lite:

From New Scientist:

The signal – known as the “Wow! signal” after a note scribbled by astronomer Jerry Ehman, who detected it – came through at 1420 megahertz, corresponding to a wavelength of 21 centimetres. Searchers for extraterrestrial transmissions have long considered it an auspicious place to look, as it is one of the main frequencies at which atoms of hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, absorb and emit energy. What’s more, this frequency easily penetrates the atmosphere.

But in the 40 years since, we’ve never heard anything like it again. Analysis of the signal ruled out a satellite, and a reflected signal from the Earth’s surface is unlikely because regulations forbid transmission in that frequency range.

And so now,

If the comets were passing in front of the Big Ear in 1977, they would have generated an apparently short-lived signal, as the telescope (now dismantled) had a fixed field of view. Searching that same area – as subsequent radio telescopes did – wouldn’t show anything. Tracing the comets’ positions back in time, [astronomer Antonio] Paris says that the possible origin for the Wow! signal falls right between where they would have been.

Neither comet was known in 1977; they were both discovered in the last decade, which would mean nobody would have thought to search for them. The odds of any telescope catching them in the region of the Wow! signal by chance were vanishingly small. More.

Paris wants to test the idea.  Preprint.

It will be interesting to see whether naturalists are as eager to demonstrate a natural origin for the Wow! signal as they would be for a healing miracle.

See also: How do we grapple with the idea that ET might not be out there? Is there a point at which ET doesn’t even need to exist? If people believe in him, isn’t that enough? Sometimes one wonders.

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