Tuesday, May 4, 2010

FACT: Aliens Contacted Earth via the "Wow! Signal" on Aug 15th 1977...

Over the past week or so, I've been watching every Stephen Hawking documentary I can get my hands on, and in the latest one that I watched (Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking - Aliens), Hawking mentioned the "Wow!" radio signal that was captured via a SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project at The Big Ear radio telescope of Ohio State University on August 15th, 1977 (Wikipedia - Wow! signal).

Personally, I hadn't heard about this discovery before, and as such, it was a real eye-opener for me. It reminded me of that movie Contact (Wikipedia - Contact (film)), where scientists listened for radio signals from space, until the day that they actually found something, a signal that repeated a sequence of prime numbers coming from the star Vega.

Anyway, that was all fun stuff to watch, and yada, but when Hawking mentioned that scientists had actually really received a radio signal from space, I was shocked.

Here's a YouTube video with a segment of the documentary containing the discussion about the Wow! radio signal. If you're interested, watch the video from 2:42 until about 7:00 where he discusses it:

Basically what happened (and what Hawking goes on to explain), is that Dr. Jerry R. Ehman, while listening for radio signals in space via a radio telescope for years, one day finally heard something that was different from the normal radio static that consumes the universe (which Hawking says was definitely intentional by the sender, as if it were at the same levels as the random radio static, no person that was listening would be able to distinguish it).

These radio signals are monitored and measured via their "intensity variation", which I take to mean the strength of their signal. Dr. Ehman and his team made a system whereby the intensities of signals were given a single alphanumeric character which represented their strength. A space was assigned to anything between 0 and 0.9999, 1 to 9 represented values between 1 to 1.9999 and 9 to 9.9999 and so on. When the intensity of the signal was 10 to 10.9999 it was given an A, and 11 to 11.9999 a B and so on. The radio telescope's computer was also designed to output the data in single character columns (which went from top to bottom). So, when looking at the chart (in the picture above), you can see how there are random spaces and numbers everywhere, and then all of a sudden, for 6 straight characters, there was an actual sequence. When you look at the sequence, "6EQUJ5", you can see that it started low, with 6, then E (15 to 15.9999), up to U (which is 30 to 30.9999), and then slowly back down again until it hit 5.

When graphed, this is what it looked like:

Meaning, that an actual distinguishable radio signal was received from outer space.

Meaning that someone or something actually sent that radio signal from outer space.

Hence Dr. Ehman's comment on the print out of "Wow!", which became it's name going forward.

It was later determined that this signal was received from a star-system that was 200 light-years away from Earth, meaning that it took 200 years to get here from that source. So, even if the aliens did send the signal, given that 200 years had passed by the time we received it, and given that if we were to send a response, it would also take 200 years for them to get it, it would have been 400 years later, and what are the chances that even we would wait 400 years for a response before concluding the test a failure, right?  Most likely, the aliens will have forgotten all about the test and moved on, I would assume.  This is why Hawking eventually acknowledges that trying to communicate with Aliens in distant star-systems is not most efficiently done via radio...

So, we have to accept that even though we've been sending radio signals out there for a while, there's a great chance that no one has heard them yet, as even getting to the star-system that contacted us would take at least 200 years...

It also leads me to the thinking that if these aliens sent us this message 200 years ago, and we received it in 1977, that means that they sent it in 1777 our time, meaning that these aliens are possibly about 150 years ahead of us in terms of technological evolution.   Hawking says that if they were anything like us, they most likely figured out E=MC² very quickly after figuring out radio, and could quite possibly have destroyed themselves via atomic bombs shortly thereafter.  I mean, what are the chances that they would use these weapons for deterrents like we do?  That also leads to the thinking that these aliens could possibly have destroyed their planet, and therefore needed a new place to live, and therefore unlike us who are sending out messages to see if anyone is out there so we can talk peacefully, they may have completely different goals, like finding a new place to live.  Given this, do we really want to be sending signals out to space, pinpointing our location, confirming that we are on a livable planet?  Oh well, too late! ;)

Anyway, I thought this was really interesting so I had to write a post about it. I'm sure this isn't news to many of you (and if that's you, then up yours! ...just kidding), but I'm also sure there are some of you out there who didn't know this, like myself or my girl for example...

For those of you who are interested in watching the entire Stephen Hawking documentary, I've included the 5 YouTube videos below for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!


http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d3/Wow_signal.jpg by The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO)
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/Wow_signal_profile.png by Cmglee

Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking - Aliens (1/5):

Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking - Aliens (2/5):

Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking - Aliens (3/5):

Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking - Aliens (4/5):

Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking - Aliens (5/5):


Anonymous said...

Interesing post :). Sucks that they removed all the videos.

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