Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

One of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century might have been solved

wow.jpg

On 15 August 1977, astronomer Jerry Ehman was listening to space. Working at the Big Ear radio telescope of Ohio State University, he was monitoring the regular radio signals bombarding the Earth from the depths of space - when a prolonged 72-second blast of radiation was picked up by the telescope.

Such was the magnitude of the signal - 30 times stronger than the usual background radiation of space, an event unlike anything recorded before or since - that he printed off the observation data and scrawled "Wow!" in red ink around the reading. 

After nearly 40 years of analysis, head scratching and claims over genuine contact with alien life, an answer has been offered.

Comets.

Professor Antonio Paris, an astronomer at St Petersburg College, Florida, has released a study in which he suggests that one of two comets - 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) - were most likely responsible for the radio blast. 

"I came across the idea when I was in my car driving and wondered if a planetary body, moving fast enough, could be the source," he told New Scientist. His hunch suggests that the hydrogen cloud that trails behind comets such as 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) would emit a constant stream of radiation.

The Big Ear radio telescope, with its fixed field of view, would only have picked up this stream of radiation as a momentary blip, as the comets passed in front of the telescope's view. As such, when other telescopes were pointed in the same patch of space to look for more signals, they wouldn't have found anything. 

As the comets - which weren't known of in 1977 - would have been crossing the patch of sky that the Big Ear was listening to, Paris believes that they are the most likely source of the "Wow!" event. However, some researchers don't think either of the comets would be large enough to produce the necessary amounts of hydrogen to create the "Wow!" signal.

"The hypothesis must be tested before it is ruled out," said Paris. "Science 101." Which means all eyes (and radio telescopes) will be pointed to the skies on on 25 January 2017 - when comet 266P/Christensen is expected to pass by the same region - and 7 January 2018 when P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) flies by.

Related

Bowie.jpg

People are petitioning God to bring Bowie back from the dead

07 Burp.jpg

20 mind-blowing facts that sound like lies

universe2.jpg

This is what the universe looks like in a single image

Comments

More

Leaked poster appears to confirm Destiny 2 release date

And it sounds like they're doing a beta in June

by Matt Tate
23 Mar 2017

Android users can finally play Super Mario Run - and definitely should

Extended toilet breaks for everyone

by Matt Tate
23 Mar 2017

Apple have released a red iPhone and that is very important

And not just because it's red

by Gary Ogden
21 Mar 2017

Amazon's new Alexa update means it can bring you beer in two hours

"Alexa, we're going to need more booze"

by Matt Tate
21 Mar 2017

Forget traffic jams with this SUV that can drive over cars

Why has it taken so long to invent this?

by Dave Fawbert
21 Mar 2017

Zelda megafan controls his smart home with an ocarina

Pointless? Possibly. Are we envious? Definitely

by Matt Tate
20 Mar 2017

Why I pray every day for an 'SSX Tricky' remake

It's all about that Big Air Bonus

by Matt Tate
17 Mar 2017

Soon you'll be able to steal your mate's phone battery to charge your

"Oh come on, mate, I've only got 4%"

by Gary Ogden
17 Mar 2017

How to cheat your way to victory in 'Mario Kart 64'

Anyone fancy digging the old N64 out again?

by Matt Tate
17 Mar 2017

5 new(ish) mobile games guaranteed to make any commute bearable

It doesn't have to be this painful

by Matt Tate
16 Mar 2017