The Wow! Signal: SETI’s Most Tantalizing Recording

Wow! SignalGood article about the mysterious Wow! signal from Ross Andersen in the Atlantic:

Late one night in the summer of 1977, a large radio telescope outside Delaware, Ohio intercepted a radio signal that seemed for a brief time like it might change the course of human history. The telescope was searching the sky on behalf of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and the signal, though it lasted only seventy-two seconds, fit the profile of a message beamed from another world. Despite its potential import, several days went by before Jerry Ehman, a project scientist for SETI, noticed the data.

He was flipping through the computer printouts generated by the telescope when he noticed a string of letters within a long sequence of low numbers — ones, twos, threes and fours. The low numbers represent background noise, the low hum of an ordinary signal. As the telescope swept across the sky, it momentarily landed on something quite extraordinary, causing the signal to surge and the computer to shift from numbers to letters and then keep climbing all the way up to “U,” which represented a signal thirty times higher than the background noise level. Seeing the consecutive letters, the mark of something strange or even alien, Ehman circled them in red ink and wrote “Wow!” thus christening the most famous and tantalizing signal of SETI’s short history: The “Wow!” signal.

Despite several decades of searching, by amateur and professional astronomers alike, the “Wow!” signal has never again been found  …

Read More: Ross Andersen in the Atlantic

7 Comments on "The Wow! Signal: SETI’s Most Tantalizing Recording"

  1. Anarchy Pony | Feb 18, 2012 at 5:58 pm |

    Now I have to go watch Contact, at least the first two thirds anyway. To Netflix!

  2. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks…

    Of course I don’t actually know anything about how radio astronomy works, so I’ll just make awkward similes.

  3. VOICE_OF_ANARCHY | Feb 18, 2012 at 6:43 pm |


  4. I’m changing my license plate number to “6EQ UJ5.”

  5. Siminatongue | Feb 19, 2012 at 10:31 am |

    Wow?  I’m not surprised they identified an intergalactic gaming signal of World of Warcraft going on. It’s quite popular. They probably got it off a torrent site, I don’t see aliens walking into a gaming store to buy a copy.

  6. Still one of the most intriguing scientific mysteries to date, although I’m partial to the “Bloop” signal myself.

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