Is a secret ALIEN MESSAGE hiding in the Wow! signal?
All day, astronomer Jerry Ehman has been using Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope to sweep the sky for possible signals from other civilisations. So far, he’s heard nothing more than the hum of space, until suddenly, at 22.16, he receives a blast of radio waves and the printer whirrs into life. A series of letters and numbers appears – a strange frequency reading ‘6EQUJ5’. The signal has come from deep space. Ehman circles it with a pen and writes ‘Wow!’
Nearly 40 years have passed since that night – but the so-called Wow! signal remains a mystery. The one certainty: it travelled from somewhere near the constellation Sagittarius – 200 light years away. “The signal never reappeared,” says physicist Harald Lesch. For that reason, Ehman has expressed doubts that the signal originated from an intelligent extraterrestrial source: “We should have seen it again when we looked for it 50 times. That suggests it was an Earthsourced signal that simply got reflected off some space debris.”
But other scientists believe that the signal frequency hints at something truly out of this world. It was measured at 1420.4556 MHZ – close to what’s known as the hydrogen line, the electromagnetic radiation spectral line that is created by a change in the energy state of neutral hydrogen atoms. As hydrogen is the most abundant element in space, extraterrestrial beings might use that frequency to transmit a signal.
There’s just one thing: if the sender really was an intelligent being, they’ll have to wait a while for an answer: the interstellar radio message took 122 years to reach Earth.
VOICE FROM THE DEEP The universe is never silent. But the Wow! signal was 30 times louder than the normal level of noise found in space.