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Thread: Wow! Signal Might Have Been From Comets, Not Aliens

  1. #1
    Administrator Harley's Avatar
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    Wow! Signal Might Have Been From Comets, Not Aliens

    In 1977 Jerry R. Ehman was monitoring a radio telescope when he observed a spike in signal, and he wrote "Wow!" on a printout. A new study in the Center for Planetary Science links the signal to comets.

    Famous Wow! Signal Might Have Been From Comets, Not Aliens

    Via New Scientist
    11 January 2016

    On 15 August 1977, radio astronomers using the Big Ear radio telescope at Ohio State University picked up a powerful signal from space. Some believe it was our first interception of an alien broadcast. Now it seems something closer to home may have been the source: a pair of passing comets.

    The signal – known as the “Wow! signal” after a note scribbled by astronomer Jerry Ehman, who detected it – came through at 1420 megahertz, corresponding to a wavelength of 21 centimetres. Searchers for extraterrestrial transmissions have long considered it an auspicious place to look, as it is one of the main frequencies at which atoms of hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, absorb and emit energy. What’s more, this frequency easily penetrates the atmosphere.

    But in the 40 years since, we’ve never heard anything like it again. Analysis of the signal ruled out a satellite, and a reflected signal from the Earth’s surface is unlikely because regulations forbid transmission in that frequency range.

    The signal’s intensity rose and fell over the course of 72 seconds, which is the length of time that the Big Ear could keep an object in its field of view due to the rotation of the Earth. That meant it was clearly coming from space. So what was it?

    Antonio Paris, a professor of astronomy at St Petersburg College in Florida, thinks the signal might have come from one or more passing comets. He points the finger at two suspects, called 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs). “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 says.

    Hydrogen clouds

    Comets release a lot of hydrogen as they swing around the sun. This happens because ultraviolet light breaks up their frozen water, creating a cloud of the gas extending millions of kilometres out from the comet itself.

    If the comets were passing in front of the Big Ear in 1977, they would have generated an apparently short-lived signal, as the telescope (now dismantled) had a fixed field of view. Searching that same area – as subsequent radio telescopes did – wouldn’t show anything. Tracing the comets’ positions back in time, Paris says that the possible origin for the Wow! signal falls right between where they would have been.

    Neither comet was known in 1977; they were both discovered in the last decade, which would mean nobody would have thought to search for them. The odds of any telescope catching them in the region of the Wow! signal by chance were vanishingly small.

    To test his idea, Paris proposes looking at the same region of space when the comets are back. Comet 266P/Christensen will transit the region first, on 25 January 2017, then P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs), on 7 January 2018. An analysis of the hydrogen signal of the comets should reveal if he is correct.

    Doubts signalled

    Some researchers are sceptical, saying it isn’t clear the comets would release enough hydrogen to generate something like the Wow! signal. James Bauer of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, agrees that the hydrogen from comets can extend quite far, but still thinks the signal won’t be strong enough. “If comets were radio-bright at 21 centimetres, I would be puzzled as to why they aren’t observed more often at those wavelengths,” he says.

    Paris says future observations will determine whether he is right. One crucial piece of evidence will be how fast the comets move across the sky. Too slow, and the Big Ear would have seen another signal 24 hours later as they rolled back into view, unlike the solo blast of the Wow! signal. “The hypothesis must be tested before it is ruled out,” he says. “Science 101.”

    Journal reference: To appear in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, preprint

    (Image credit: The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American Astrophysical Observatory (NAAPO))

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    Senior Member Adam Bomm's Avatar
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    Re: Wow! Signal Might Have Been From Comets, Not Aliens

    their covering it up as usual...

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    Re: Wow! Signal Might Have Been From Comets, Not Aliens

    Latest news...

    Astronomers claim the Wow! signal is not from a comet, mystery remains unsolved.

    IN 1977, Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope captured a 72 second-long astronomical anomaly that has since been a constant source of speculation among the star gazing community.

    While reviewing the recorded data from the radio telescope being used to support the search for extraterrestrial intelligence project, astronomer Jerry Ehman discovered the narrow-bandwidth signal.

    Ehman was so intrigued by the peculiar discovery, he circled the reading on the computer printout of the data and wrote ‘Wow!’ on the side of the paper.

    The anomaly was then aptly titled the Wow! signal.

    As the signal did not repeat and subsequent attempts to find it were unsuccessful, its origin has remained a mystery for 40 years.

    However, a new scientific paper published in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences claimed to have solved the four decade enigma.

    According to astronomer Antonio Paris, the bizarre 1420 MHz radio signal could be attributed to a comet that was in the vicinity of the recording back in 1977.

    The comet, called 266P/Christensen, wasn’t catalogued at the time, although the research suggests its hydrogen clouds were the source of the signal.

    When 266P/Christensen returned to the same sector of space earlier this year, Paris’ team was able to match its frequency to the same 1420 MHz bandwidth seen with the Wow! signal.

    “This investigation, therefore, has concluded that cometary spectra are observable at 1420 MHz and that the 1977 ‘Wow!’ signal was a natural phenomenon from a Solar System body,” the paper read.

    Further testing showed other comets also send radio signals at the same frequency as hydrogen, so even if it wasn’t 266/P Christensen that sent the Wow! Signal, Paris believes it was definitely a comet.

    So that solves that mystery, right?

    That answer depends on who you believe, with a number of astronomers rubbishing Paris’ conclusion — even the astronomer who discovered the Wow! signal in 1977 doesn’t believe the paper’s finding.

    Ehman explained the Big Ear telescope had two “feed horns” to capture slightly different field of views, yet there was only one recorded signal.

    “We should have seen the source come through twice in about three minutes: one response lasting 72 seconds and a second response for 72 seconds following within about a minute and a half,” he told Live Science.

    Ehman said the signal being cut off abruptly was the only reason only one recording was captured, and believe this proves it couldn’t be a comet because it wouldn’t have been possible for it to escape the radio telescope’s field of view that fast.

    Comet expert Alan Fitzsimmons also disputes the findings, claiming it would have been impossible to record the apparent 1420 MHz signal from 266P/Christensen because it has little activity even when at perihelion — its closest point to the Sun.

    “When he observed the comet it was over four astronomical units from the Sun, which means it would have been effectively inactive,” he told Astronomy Now.

    “There would have been no hydrogen coma to detect and therefore he could not have seen the comet.”
    Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute Seth Shostak held similar sentiments.

    “I don’t know of any detection of the 21cm line of neutral hydrogen from a comet, and as I used to study galaxies in the neutral hydrogen line, I probably would have heard of that,” he said.

    Paris shows little concern over the criticisms, with the astronomer justifying his discovery.

    “Astronomers have not detected hydrogen emission from comets because there has not been much research specifically on this subject,” he said.

    “While there has been a handful of studies, I suspect we are the first to build a ten-metre telescope to specifically look at this type of Solar System body.”
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  7. #4
    Senior Member Adam Bomm's Avatar
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    Re: Wow! Signal Might Have Been From Comets, Not Aliens

    I think Antonio Paris is grasping at straws and stardom (get it, Wow! that's funny). Naw, I ain't buying that...

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