August 15, 1977 in American cinemas were still spinning “New Hope” – the first episode of “Star Wars”, Elvis Presley was just going to fly home, and before the premiere of “Close contacts of the third degree” there was exactly three months. On the evening of August 15, Jerry Ayman scanned the signals from the Big Ear radio telescope in Ohio. Among the usual noise from gaps and units, he noticed an uncharacteristic tight code. It was a strong narrow-band radio signal, which could become that first contact with aliens.
How the “Big Ear” looked for aliens
The “big ear” was put into operation in 1963. An antenna the size of three football fields for seven years was engaged in wiretapping and searching for newly discovered quasars. Today’s science considers them to be active nuclei of galaxies at their early stage of development: a supermassive black hole absorbs everything around and creates a powerful radiation that is tens and hundreds of times greater than all the stars in our galaxy. They are so far from us (the nearest – at a distance of 2.4 billion light-years) and have such powerful signals that modern astronautics uses them as beacons of the Universe for high-precision orientation and creation of spacecraft trajectories.
But this is intergalactic lyrics. By 1977, when Jerry worked as a volunteer on a radio telescope, he was already used for the purposes of SETI. This is a series of projects, events and the union of scientists, which have as their goal the search for extraterrestrial civilizations. Jerry “listened” to the cosmos and was looking for signals that were knocked out of the general noise and resembled artificial ones.
Listened – of course, strongly said. His work boiled down to viewing a printout of data from a variety of digits. More often these were units, deuces, triplets, interspersed scattered on the printout. So the very signals from space were coded, or rather their intensity (signal-to-noise ratio) over a 12-second time interval. For noise, the averaged value of the preceding minutes of listening was taken.
The radio telescope worked for three or four days, then it was closed, and the collected data was printed. When the 1 MB hard disk was empty, the telescope started again.
To save space on the printout, the intensity was encoded with blanks, numbers and alphabet letters from A to U. Every 12 seconds a new number or space was printed on the printout that characterized the signals received by the telescope.
The letter U in the printout met only once during the entire operation time of the telescope. And this was on August 15, 1977. And she was noticed by Jerry Ayman in a completely uncharacteristic code 6EQUJ5.
A short cry in the void
6 characters, only 72 seconds. It was so much time the radio telescope could observe a certain point in the sky. After all, he still did not have a mobile antenna: the “rotation” was controlled by the rotation of the Earth. At the same time, the intensity of the signal increased for the first 36 seconds, until the “ear” of the telescope was aimed precisely at the source, and then also 36 seconds faded.
The resulting code was exactly what it was expected to hear from something supernatural. The signal-to-noise ratio as well as the transmission band were similar to those that in theory can be attributed to an extraterrestrial civilization: a signal with a frequency of about 1420 MHz at a wavelength of 21 cm. In fact, this is a universal frequency. Around it is the least natural disturbance, it is most logical to use it for interstellar communication. Any civilization that has reached our level of development must understand this. That’s why the frequency of 1420 MHz is reserved on Earth. To avoid clogging the air, it is forbidden to use it for other purposes.
On August 15, 1977, Jerry circled the code with a red pen and wrote: “Wow!” Perhaps before that he scratched his head or rubbed his eyes, but we do not know for certain. It is only known that his discovery was found all over the world. And he himself never again picks up the phone until the caller speaks to the answering machine. Not because Jerry is an antisocial type. Just cautious. After all, at the other end of the wire may be another fanatic ufologist or journalist.
It would seem that more than 40 years have passed since its discovery, but it still stirs the minds of many ordinary people, journalists, ufology enthusiasts and scientists. Still, this is the most reliable documented human contact with what might be an alien civilization.
Imagine yourself. For so many years, Ayman and many of his colleagues around the world on various radio telescopes have flipped through the printouts of signals from outer space. He himself until 2008 volunteer on the radio telescope. Later, SETI connected an extensive computer network to process data from radio telescopes. What one person did manually by hours, the network analyzed for milliseconds. But nothing equally exciting unusual was found.
Jerry is often called by those who are sure that he solved the riddle of a loud signal that never recurred again. One day a man from Poland called him. He was sure he had solved the puzzle. “He said he spent 10 years studying the code. And I tried to explain to him that I had not received any code from the aliens and there simply was not enough to decode it, “said Eyman in an interview 8 years ago. Another ufologist amateur from Holland continued to call for months. Saved only an answering machine.
Hypotheses about the source of the signal
As soon as the Wow! Signal became known, its possible nature was questioned. Many scientists both then and later listened to the region in the constellation of Sagittarius, where the signal came from, but could not hear it again. And what does not repeat, can be considered unreliable.
Someone explained the impossibility of catching the signal for the second time by the fact that its source operates according to the principles of the lighthouse, radiating transmission in various directions in space. Or maybe it was a starship at all, whose trajectory accidentally crossed with the “ear” of the radio telescope. Someone in this cosmic cry saw a random amplification of a weaker signal reflected from space debris. But since its frequency is not used in radio transmitters on Earth, the idea was soon abandoned.
Professor Antonio Paris from the college in St. Petersburg, a year ago, announced that he had solved the riddle. In his opinion, the source of the signal was a comet, known since 2006 as 266P / Christensen, but unknown 40 years ago. Its transit on August 15, 1977 became the signal. The fact is that comets are enveloped in clouds of hydrogen, and the frequency of 1420 MHz is the radio frequency of natural hydrogen radiation. Paris tested this statement on different comets and came to the conclusion that radiation at this frequency is present.
But this explanation was confronted with the skepticism of Ayman. He explained that the “Big Ear” telescope, which was dismantled in 1997, had two receiving antennas. Each of them provided a slightly different field of view. Wow! Signal scientists had to fix twice in about 3 minutes: 72 seconds of the original signal, one and a half minutes of silence and another 72 seconds of signal. But the second signal was not followed. It’s like someone turned off the transmitter or took him to the side.
But comets are not capable of such a thing. Their gas covers large areas in space. So quickly she can not escape the sight of the telescope.
Paris also countered that in this case the problem should not be in the signal, but in the telescope. It is possible that this was some internal failure, which many media and scientists took for the first contact with the alien civilization.
Where are you?
Where are the aliens and why have not we found yet not only them, but even the smallest authentic traces of their existence? Only in our galaxy are hundreds of billions of stars, billions of potentially inhabited planets. In just a few thousand years, humanity has gone from manual bookmarking of pyramids to spacewalk. Really, in the billions of years of our galaxy’s life, it has not found the same steep and advanced guys like us, capable of achieving a high level of technological development and not self-destructing in a nuclear accident?
In many ways, the problem of finding aliens and their signals of life is tied in that we assume that extraterrestrial civilizations will look like ours. In the 19th century, the mathematician Karl Gauss suggested sending a message to the Martians about our existence with the help of a giant triangle cut down in the Siberian taiga. It is for sure not known whether Gauss actually acted with such a proposal, but the direction of the thought is understandable. We are looking for signals in the cosmos that we can generate and take ourselves and to which we can think at this stage of development.
At the moment – it’s radio signals. Since 1895 earthlings have enjoyed wireless communication. Broadcasts from those bearded times with a speed close to 300,000 km / sec spread in all directions. If for us this hundred years is a huge time for which the world has changed beyond recognition, then on a galactic scale our radio programs are a modest bunch in the Pacific Ocean.
The nearest exoplanet Proxima Centauri b is located at a distance of 4.25 light years. For 11 days, it turns around its red dwarf in a habitable zone, slightly heavier than the Earth, but is exposed to two thousand times the greater pressure of the stellar wind than our planet. This means that the atmosphere of the planet was blown away a long time ago, and if life could be born to us, it would be only under the surface. Will hypothetical locals be interested in lifting to the surface and exploring outer space? Who knows…
Let’s put ourselves in the place of extraterrestrial scientists searching for signals from the Earth in immense space. With a Milky Way diameter of 100,000 light-years, we will not be heard very long. And when they hear, the earthlings will not be the same. If they do not roll back to the Middle Ages at all, they will survive.
And this is only an isolated case in which we added a little imagination. Extraterrestrials can use directional communication devices (lasers) or other specific particles. They could so overtake us in development that we can not distinguish their activity from natural phenomena. They can have on their home planet too high a force of attraction, because of which chemical engines simply can not put rockets into space. Either they carefully hide the traces of their existence, so as not to shine on the radar of potential predators.