Amateur Astronomer Tracks Possible Source of the Famous ‘Wow!’ Signal – a Mystery Since 1977
43 years is a long time to solve a puzzle, but when the result could reveal whether or not intelligent alien civilizations exist in the universe, it’s worth waiting.
When Jerry Ehman, working at the radio telescope desk at Big Ears Observatory, Ohio, recorded an enormously complicated radio signal arriving from space, he famously scrawled “WOW! next to the reading on the computer printouts.
At the time it was hypothesized to have come from an advanced civilization, and now 43 years later a citizen scientist has plumbed the depths of the Gaia Star Catalogue and determined the most likely place, down to the star, the WOW! signal originated from.
Alberto Caballero claims that the signal made berth from a body in the habitable zone surrounding a Sun-like star called 2MASS 19281982-2640123, approximately 1,800 light years from Earth in the Sagittarius constellation.
This was based on data from the Gaia Archive, a massive database of positions, mass metrics, moving velocities, and brightness of 1.3 billion different stars assembled by the European Space Agency.
Caballero concludes that 2MASS is “therefore an ideal target to conduct observations in the search for potentially habitable exoplanets.”
Big Ears Observatory has looked over 100 times towards the region of space that produced the long complex radio signal to see if it ever repeated itself or broadcasted others, as the radio signal took up all 72 potential seconds of Big Ears’ capacity for measurement, but nothing like the Wow! signal has ever been recorded again.
Speaking a year after he retired, Jerry Ehman noted how much the totally absent-minded scribble came to define his career, as everytime Big Ears accomplished anything of note, journalists would call and ask about him and his Wow! moment.
“I just wish when I talked to journalists, there was really something more to say about it. I’d like to say, ‘Gee, that’s a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence,” Ehman told Big Ears Magazine in 1994. “I honestly can’t do that.”
The distance of the star from Earth means it’s too far to send any kind of reply. If scientists wanted to see if aliens existed around 2MASS, they would have had to send a radio signal greeting of their own under the auspicious of the Roman Emperor Hadrian for it to arrive there in present day.