At first scientists entertained the idea that they’d discovered a message from extraterrestrials (1).
During mid-August, Jerry Ehman (37 at the time) an Ohio State University volunteer researcher was working at the Big Ear Radio Observatory (no longer operational). Ehman was doing his normal job, looking over the telescope scan data from a couple of days earlier when he spotted something that sent ripples around the world.
The scanning of the sky produced massive amounts of computer paper used by the IBM 1130 mainframe computer. The reams were then examined by researchers, a very time-consuming and tedious job.
Ehman saw something that wasn’t normal and completely unexpected. It was an unusually strong wavelength theorized to have been generated by something other than a natural source. It very possibly had been created by another life form, aka alien.
On paper, it was represented by a “vertical column with the alphanumerical sequence “6EQUJ5,” which had occurred at 10:16 p.m. EST on August 15, 1977. Excited by his discovery, Ehman circled the sequence with a red ink pen and in the margin beside it scribbled “Wow!”
This amazing find indicated that the signal came from the constellation Sagittarius. It seemed for all practical purposes to be a signal. It was quickly dubbed, “The Wow Signal” (2).
The Smithsonian reported that the signal was “30 times greater than the background hum of the universe.” The telescope could only focus on a “single point for 72 seconds,” but the signal lasted the entire duration (3).
Because the broadcast of signal was strong enough to pass through Earth’s atmosphere, researchers were convinced that it was an intentional signaling.
Could the Wow Signal Be from Comets?
38 years later, what has been an unsolved mystery filled with possible extraterrestrial contact has now been theorized to be two previously undetected passing comets – no attempt by aliens to contact Earth. The comets named 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) were discovered nearly ten years ago.
In 2015, astronomer and professor “Antonio Paris at St. Petersburg College in Florida” published his theory about the comets possibly being responsible for the Wow Signal in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences (4).
In January 2016, NBC reported that Paris believed that the two comets “were in just the right position.” Paris theorized that “due to their halo of hydrogen” the comets “might have given off energy in the right wavelength.”
The radio waves created by the comets release of hydrogen traveled through space similar to light. Paris suggests that the Big Ear Radio Telescope possibly intercepted the comet hydrogen radio waves. The orbital periods of both comets are 6.63 years and 6.8 years respectively could be why the Wow Signal was “intermittent and not detected during subsequent searches of the area.”
The Smithsonian points out that the hydrogen frequency that’s nearly 1420 megahertz has “long been considered the go-to for alien transmissions.” This is the frequency that the observatory was interested in with its search for alien life. The frequency also “absorbs and emits energy.”
Testing the Theory over Next Two Years
There are of course skeptics. The Smithsonian reports that researcher James Bauer, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California is one of those skeptics.
It’s believed that if comets are capable of emitting such “signals near the wavelength of hydrogen emissions” then why haven’t such signals been noticed?
More research is needed. More observations need to be conducted before Paris’ theory can be proven. NBC clarifies that “Paris’ proposal isn’t that the comets are definitely the cause, but rather that they are a possibility that has never been ruled out.”
The opportunity to explore the comets further won’t present itself until late January 2017 when one comet should “pass through the right area.” The other comet will be in the right position early January 2018.
If it turns out that the Wow Signal was generated by the two comets, it will be the end to a nearly 40 year mystery that set everyone’s imaginations toward thoughts of first contact with extraterrestrials.