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The WOW! Signal

Today we take a little break from all the murder, witches, ghosts, creepy places, and all of the other horror to bring you an episode that's on the lighter side but still could be rooted in creepiness! We are gonna take a look at the WOW signal! What is it? Where did it come from? Is Owen Wilson involved? Well hopefully we'll find out… Maybe not… Who knows!

Some of you have heard of the wow signal and you may know a little about it already, hopefully we can give you guys some more insight today.

The story starts back in 1959 when two Cornell university physicists, Philip Morrison who was a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is known for his work on the Manhattan Project during World War II, and for his later work in quantum physics, nuclear physics and high energy astrophysics and Giuseppe Cocconi, who was an Italian physicist who was director of the Proton Synchrotron at CERN in Geneva. He is known for his work in particle physics and for his involvement with SETI. These two nerds speculated that there might be a specific radio frequency that an intelligent extraterrestrial life would use if they were trying to make contact. That frequency is 1420 megahertz.

That frequency was chosen for a particular reason, it is the same frequency naturally emitted by hydrogen. Now if you're up on your elements you know hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. It stands to reason, therefore, that hydrogen and thus its frequency would be familiar to any intelligent civilizations in the universe.

Then between 1965 and 1971 The Ohio State University Radio Observatory carried out the Ohio Sky Survey. Data was collected using the Big Ear radio telescope. The observatory was a Kraus-type (after its inventor John D. Kraus) radio telescope.

The observatory was part of The Ohio State University's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. Construction of the Big Ear began in 1956 and was completed in 1961, and it was finally turned on for the first time in 1963. The survey was primarily at a radio frequency of 1415 MHz, but data was also collected and evaluated at 2650 MHz and 612 MHz. Only one "channel" or band of frequencies was sampled for each frequency. The antenna was oriented to one declination at a time, (a declination is the angular distance of a point north or south of the celestial equator) and as the sky drifted past the meridian field of view, radio energy from that area was received and detected. Signal power was plotted on an analog chart recorder and also digitized and recorded on magnetic tape for later processing. A given declination was observed for a number of days before the telescope was moved to another declination in a systematic fashion.

The area surveyed was from declinations 63 degrees north to 36 degrees south, with a resolution at 1415 MHz of roughly 40 arc minutes in declination by 10 arc minutes in right ascension (RA). Over the course of the Survey, 19,620 sources at 1415 MHz were identified, of which 60% were previously uncataloged.

Some of the objects first identified by the Ohio Survey included quasars, objects of intense radiation and power at the edge of the then-known universe. The archived data subsequently permitted these and other sources to be reviewed over several years of observations. Later, the LOBES survey used most of the same apparatus as the Ohio Survey, and was able to automatically determine and verify the sources first charted by the Ohio Survey.

After the Ohio Sky Survey, Big Ear was put to use for Ohio State's SETI research program. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is a collective term for scientific searches for intelligent extraterrestrial life, for example, monitoring electromagnetic radiation for signs of transmissions from civilizations on other planets. Now we are already getting kind of nerdy so we are not going to get into the history of SETI and all of the people that were involved throughout the years. It would basically be its own big nerdy episode. It's pretty awesome and interesting to get into if you've got the time to get into it. Actually, it sounds like an awesome Patreon Bonus. But for now the basic description is all you need… People looking for intelligent life throughout the universe. Because, well, there isn’t a whole lot here on earth. The Ohio State seti program lasted from 1973-1995 and made the 1995 Guinness book of world records for the longest running seti program. It was during this 22 year run that the WOW signal came into being. So with that history out of the way let's get to the signal itself… There's going to be some sciencey stuff so get ready to get your nerd on!

On August 15, 1977 as Big Ear was scanning the heavens, it received a remarkable signal. Astronomer Jerry R. Ehman was sifting through data for several days and came across the signal. On a piece of printed tape with mostly 1s 2s and 3s there was the occasional higher number and then he noticed a line that contained the following sequence, 6EQUJ5. Ehman circled the section in red and wrote a little note in the margin... one word… that word? It was “poop.” No one knows why he wrote “poop” next to the sequence, either. And of course that’s stupid and I made it up. No, you silly fuckers! The word was, of course… “WOW!” The signal seemingly came from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius and contained the expected hallmarks of extraterrestrial origin! Aliens, bitches!!

The sequence string 6EQUJ5, commonly misinterpreted as a message encoded in the radio signal, represents in fact the signal's intensity variation over time, expressed in the particular measuring system adopted for the experiment. Got that? Good.

The signal itself appeared to be an unmodulated continuous wave, although any modulation with a period of less than 10 seconds or longer than 72 seconds would not have been detectable. So basically the letters and numbers represent how strong or intense the signal was as compared to the constant background noise. If the signal was longer than 72 seconds any modulation in the signal would not have been able to be detected.

Ok so the intensity of the signals were measured at a signal to noise ratio. Basically they would constantly measure the noise coming through to determine a baseline reading to compare any received signals to. The signal was sampled for 10 seconds and then processed by the computer, which took 2 seconds. Therefore, every 12 seconds the result for each frequency channel was output on the printout as a single character, representing the 10-second average intensity, minus the baseline. So essentially every 12 seconds a series of numbers were printed out giving the researchers an idea of how strong any signal that might be received was as compared to the baseline noise.

The numbers and letters were part of an alphanumeric system set up by the researchers to determine signal strength. If there was just a blank space that meant the signal was between 0-1. This means a signal between the baseline and one standard deviation above the baseline. So essentially there's no signal but the baseline noise coming back. This is why when you look at the printout there are mostly spaces and 1s as there was no signal side from baseline noise coming back. The numbers 1 to 9 denote the correspondingly numbered intensities (from 1 to 9); intensities of 10 and above are indicated by a letter: "A" corresponds to intensities between 10 and 11, "B" to 11 to 12, and so on. So we know that was a bit tedious but that information is needed to understand just why the series of numbers and letters was so incredible. The wow signal had the highest intensity measured at the value of U. This means that while most of the returns were between 0-2 deviations above the baseline the WOW signal hit U which means it was around 30-31 deviations above the baseline! So in layman's terms imagine you're watching your tv at a volume level of 1 and all of a sudden it hits a volume of 30 that's kind of what we're dealing with. And if you're wondering, the frequency that the WOW signal was detected at was indeed around the 1420 that we mentioned earlier. The frequency that was suggested as the most likely for use by an intelligent civilization trying to make contact.

The length of the signal does not necessarily mean that the 72 seconds was the total length of the signal though. The Big Ear radio telescope was only adjustable for altitude (or height above the horizon), and relied on the rotation of the Earth to scan across the sky. Given this fact, sure to the speed of the Earth's rotation, any signal could only last a max of 72 seconds until the rotation of the earth took the radio telescope out of the way of the signal. The signal strength would be shown to get gradually louder then gradually softer as the telescope approached and then went away from the source of the signal. This is what we see with the WOW signal.

Though the signal came from the general direction of the Sagittarius constellation, due to the telescope's design it was not possible to pinpoint the location exactly. The Big Ear telescope, which featured two feed horns, each receiving a beam from slightly different directions, while following Earth's rotation. The Wow! signal was detected in one beam but not in the other, and the data was processed in such a way that it is impossible to determine which of the two horns received the signal. The region of the sky in question lies northwest of the globular cluster M55, in the constellation Sagittarius, roughly 2.5 degrees south of the fifth-magnitude star group Chi Sagittarii, and about 3.5 degrees south of the plane of the ecliptic. The closest easily visible star is Tau Sagittarii. If you know what all that means… More power trip you… if not, were with you! No nearby sun-like stars were within the antenna coordinates, although in any direction the antenna pattern would encompass about six distant stars.

So now after all that… What the fuck was the signal? Where exactly did it come from? Was it aliens?

Many different hypotheses have been put forth over the years although none have really gained traction with scientists and astronomers due to the strangeness of the situation.

One hypothesis that was presented early on was that the signal was actually a signal generated from earth and reflected off of some space junk and picked up by the telescope. Ehman has said: "We should have seen it again when we looked for it 50 times. Something suggests it was an Earth-sourced signal that simply got reflected off a piece of space debris." Ehman backed off of this suggestion after further research showed an Earth-borne signal to be very unlikely, given the requirements of a space-borne reflector being bound to certain unrealistic requirements to sufficiently explain the signal. Also, it is problematic to propose that the 1420 MHz signal originated from Earth since this is within a protected spectrum: a bandwidth reserved for astronomical purposes in which terrestrial transmitters are forbidden to transmit.

The reason Ehman suggested this theory is that they searched for the signal again many times and were never able to find it again. This lead to a few other hypotheses like the signal was a rotating signal similar to a lighthouse beacon or that it was just a one time signal shot in our direction like maybe something knew we were scanning!

In a 2012 podcast, scientific skeptic author Brian Dunning concluded that a radio transmission from deep space in the direction of Sagittarius, as opposed to a near-Earth origin, remains the best technical explanation for the emission, although there is no evidence to conclude that an alien intelligence was the source.

Speaking of looking for it again, there have been many attempts to locate the signal since it was found. As stated Ehman and his crew searched for it many times to no avail.

Robert H. Gray looked for the signal in 1987 and again in 1989. Gray is a data analyst, astronomer, and author. He wrote the book The Elusive Wow: Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Gray heard about the WOW signal a few years after it had been discovered and contacted Ehman. He went and visited Big Ear, and spoke with Ehman, Robert S. Dixon (director of the SETI project) and John D. Kraus (the telescope's designer). In 1980 gray set up a commercial telecommunications dish in his Chicago backyard and started scanning the skies for some trace of the wow signal. He began to run and monitor his small SETI Observatory regularly in 1983 but still could not find a trace of the wow signal. In 1987 and 1989 he led searches for the wow signal using the Harvard/Smithsonian META radio telescope at the Oak Ridge Observatory in Harvard, Massachusetts. In 1995 and 1996 Gray would again search for the signal. This time he would pair up with Kevin B. Marvel and use the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico. Kevin B. Marvel has served as the Executive Officer for the American Astronomical Society, the largest professional organization for researchers in astronomy and related disciplines, since July of 2006. He began work with the AAS as Associate Executive Officer for Public Policy in 1998 establishing the Society’s public policy program becoming Deputy Executive Officer in 2003. Before taking up a position with the American Astronomical Society in 1998 he served as a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology's (CALTECH’s) Owens Valley Radio Observatory. He received his Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1996 from New Mexico State University. So you know… This guy knows his shit. The Very Large Array, or VLA for short, is a centimeter-wavelength radio astronomy observatory located in central New Mexico. Astronomers using the VLA have made key observations of black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars, discovered magnetic filaments and traced complex gas motions at the Milky Way's center, probed the Universe's cosmological parameters, and provided new knowledge about the physical mechanisms that produce radio emission. Gray became the first amateur astronomer to use the VLA, and the first individual to use it to search for extraterrestrial signals. In 1998, he and University of Tasmania professor Simon Ellingsen conducted searches using the 26-meter dish at the Mount Pleasant Radio Observatory in Hobart, Tasmania. Gray and Ellingsen made six 14-hour observations where the Big Ear was pointing when it found the Wow! signal, searching for intermittent and possibly periodic signals, rather than a constant signal. No signals resembling the Wow! were detected. In 2011, Gray published the book The Elusive Wow: Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, summarizing what is known about the Wow! signal, covering his own search for the signal, and offering an overview of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. In 2016, Gray published an article in Scientific American about the Fermi paradox, which claims that if extraterrestrials existed, we would see signs of them on Earth, because they would certainly colonize the galaxy by interstellar travel. Gray argues that the Fermi paradox, named after Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi, does not accurately represent Fermi's views. Gray states that Fermi questioned the feasibility of interstellar travel, but did not say definitively whether or not he thought extraterrestrials exist. This guy is like the king of searching for the wow signal. He, more than anyone else, had kept the dream alive so to speak of finding this signal again.

In 2017 a new theory emerged that got people talking. The headlines all over science publications read that the mystery had been solved. Everyone dove into this theory. Antonio Paris, of St Petersburg College, thought discovered the explanation: a pair of comets. The work was published in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences.

These comets, known as 266P/Christensen and 335P/Gibbs, have clouds of hydrogen gas millions of kilometres in diameter surrounding them.

The Wow! Signal was detected at 1420MHz, which is the radio frequency hydrogen naturally emits.

Notably, the team had verified that the comets were within the vicinity at the time, and they report that the radio signals from 266/P Christensen matched those from the Wow! signal. They used three of world's biggest radio telescopes: the Parkes radio telescope in Australia (210 feet or 64 metres in diameter), the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia (140 feet or 40 metres in diameter), and Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico (the world's largest at 1,000 feet or 300 metres in diameter). In his paper, Paris wrote that comets will, under certain conditions, emit radio waves from the gases that surround them as they zoom closer to the sun. According to the study, Comet 266P/Christensen was in about the right position on the right day in 1977.

Several astronomers, including Ehman, think Paris is wrong about the comet. Ehman looked at Paris' study with Robert Dixon, who directs the radio observatory at The Ohio State University (Big Ear was destroyed in 1997). Two big issues are that the signal didn't repeat, and it appeared for such a short time. Ehman noted that the Big Ear telescope had two "feed horns," each of which provides a slightly different field of view for a radio telescope.

"We should have seen the source come through twice in about 3 minutes: one response lasting 72 seconds and a second response for 72 seconds following within about a minute and a half," Ehman told Live Science. "We didn't see the second one."

The only way that can happen, he said, is if the signal was cut off abruptly. A comet wouldn't produce that kind of signal, because the gases that surround them cover large, diffuse areas. Nor would the comet have escaped from the radio telescope's field of view that fast.

The other issue is the frequency of transmission. Paris said he has shown that comets can emit in that range, but Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, is skeptical. Shostak used to study emissions from neutral hydrogen in the 1,420-MHz range, and is less sure the emission would look right. Comets may not generate enough hydrogen to make a bright enough signal like Wow!.

"I don't think anyone ever found such emission from comets," Shostak told Live Science.

In late 2020 another theory came about. A star! First, some background. Back in 2013, the European Space Agency launched the Gaia space observatory to map the night sky — to determine the position, the distance, and the motion of stars with unprecedented accuracy. So far, Gaia has mapped some 1.3 billion stars, allowing astronomers to begin creating the most detailed 3D map ever made of our galaxy. The mission is expected to continue until 2024. Gaia’s new star map has significantly improved our understanding of the galaxy and the stars within it and this gave amateur astronomer Alberto Caballero an idea. The Gaia database is now significantly more detailed than the star catalog that John Kraus studied in the 1970s. Perhaps the new database might reveal the source of the Wow! signal, he reasoned. So Caballero repeated the search, looking for Sun-like stars among the thousands that have been identified by Gaia in this region of the sky. By Sun-like, he means stars that share the same temperature, radius and luminosity .

The search returned just one candidate. “The only potential Sun-like star in all the WOW! Signal region appears to be 2MASS 19281982-2640123,” says Caballero. This star sits in the constellation of Sagittarius at a distance of 1800 light-years. It is an identical twin to our Sun, with the same temperature, radius, and luminosity.

Of course, Caballero’s work does not mean that 2MASS 19281982-2640123 must have been the source. He points out that there are many stars in that region of the sky that are too dim to be included in the catalog. One of these could be the source. And there are some 66 other stars in the catalog that Caballero identified as potential candidates but with less strong evidence. These match the Sun’s temperature but data about their luminosity and radius is currently incomplete. So future data releases from Gaia and other mapping projects might yet reveal them as matches. For the moment, 2MASS 19281982-2640123 is our best bet and a good candidate for future study. Caballero says an obvious goal would be to look for signs of exoplanets orbiting this star. It could also be prioritized for study in the radio part of the spectrum.

So what else could it be? Could it still be an alien signal coming from a distant planet? Ehman isn't convinced it's aliens, either. There are many phenomena that show sudden appearances and disappearances of radio signals, including fast radio bursts (FRBs), which are mysterious radio bursts with hotly-debated astrophysical origins that generate irregular signals that last only milliseconds. Fast radio bursts are intense bursts of radio emission that have durations of milliseconds and exhibit the characteristic dispersion sweep of radio pulsars. The first was discovered in 2007 by Lorimer, although it was actually observed some six years earlier, in archival data from a pulsar survey of the Magellanic clouds. It was dubbed the “Lorimer Burst”. Many FRBs have since been recorded, including several that have been detected to repeat in seemingly irregular ways. Most FRBs are extragalactic, but the first Milky Way FRB was detected by the CHIME radio telescope in April 2020. When the FRBs are polarized, it indicates that they are emitted from a source contained within an extremely powerful magnetic field. The exact origin and cause of the FRBs is still the subject of investigation; proposals for their origin range from a rapidly rotating neutron star and a black hole, to extraterrestrial intelligence. If the Big Ear picked up only the tail end of such an emission, the data could look similar to the Wow! signal, Ehman speculated.

"The issue with the feed horns is something no one can explain, including me," Paris said. "There is some data out there to suggest the issue is at the telescope end and not the phenomenon itself." So it's possible that the signal could have been caused by a glitch in the Big Ear telescope.

Was that E.T. or was it not E.T.? Nobody knows,” Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, tells Astronomy. “Nobody has ever found another explanation for what that might have been. It's like you hear chains rattling in your attic and you think ‘My god ghosts are real.’ But then you never hear them again, so what do you think?” Most importantly, Shostak says that if the signal wouldn’t have had Wow! written across it, no one would’ve ever heard of it. One-off signals like this were common back in the early days of SETI, when observatory computers were too primitive to notify astronomers of discoveries in real time, or perform rapid-fire follow-ups.

Despite uncertainties on signals picked up from across space, scientists continue to look for signs of alien life. For instance, NASA's TESS mission hopes to find exoplanets. The effort has already led to the discovery of “hot Saturn” planet TOI 197.01. Lead author Lisa Kaltenegger, a professor of astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute, said that life might exist in different types of worlds, but what we know is that there is a world like ours who can support life. Thus, it makes sense to search for Earth-like planets.

So all this being said we found a race of aliens originating from the constellation of Sagittarius. These guys could have been the ones that sent the signal. You wanna know about them… Well we gonna tell you about them either way.

Bellatricians are one of many races stated by people to be an actual, existing species of extraterrestrial life. As such, they appear in alien conspiracy theories, most notably those expressed by Sheldan Nidle and his life partner, Colleen Marshall.

Bellatricians are stated as being a bipedal dinosaurian/reptilian hybrid with scaly, multicolored skin that seems to possess a sort of luminosity. These scales are similar in design to those of a crocodile and can be green, yellow, brown, or even red in coloration. With this in mind, green and yellow are the dominant scale colors. Overall, they are very scaly and bony. A large bony crest surrounds their upper head, while a small bony crest runs up the middle of the back and connects to the larger crest found on top of the head.

Their eyes are large and protruding, and can be either red or dull yellow in hue, resembling those of Earth's reptiles. They are set forward on the face just above and to either side of their very small nose. These eyes have been stated (by Colleen Marshall) as "conveying more warmth than I had ever thought possible".

Their mouth has thin lips that run from one side of the head to the other, presumably filled with razor-sharp teeth. Ears are tympanic in nature, like a frog's; the only sign of their existence is a circular patch of extra-smooth, 3 inch (7.62 centimeter) diameter area on either side of the head just behind the eyes.

Thin hands are attached to their arms, and are armed with six long, clawed fingers. The feet have five toes which end in small yet very sharp claws. While they do possess a tail, it is short, only extending to the feet, although it is thick like that of a crocodilian. They exhibit sexual dimorphism, with males being slightly shorter than females.

This reptilian creatures are notable for their great skills in leadership and diplomacy. They speak in a very coarse and guttural tone, their speech filled with deep growling and hissing noises. They require between 5 to 8 hours of sleep daily.

The Bellatricians migrated from the constellation of Sagittarius around 25 million years ago into the area surrounding the constellation of Orion. They are now found some 112.5 light years from Earth. For the past 6 million years, they were in charge of all the former Alliance forces for our sector of the Milky Way Galaxy. However they were finally accepted into the Galactic Federation far more recently, approximately 3 years ago.

Former members of the League of Orion, it is stated that the Bellatricians presented themselves as tyrannical overlords in the Milky Way galaxy for eons. During this time, they were the oppressive ruling class for the Draconian Empire. However, now they are attempting a transformation, and aspire to be accepted as trustworthy members of the galaxy. They are now a very curious and benevolent group that wish to connect with Earth and exchange perspectives on our shared history. They are also open to connecting with those who wish to have an experience during dreamtime. It is proposed that the more open and accepting that humanity can be, the more likely we are to attract an "otherworldly" experience.

The Bellatricians have expressed their sincere desire to make amends for the atrocities they have performed throughout the ages. They are trying their hardest to let go of their natural self-serving attitude and are learning to embrace the joy received when in service to others. They wish to have a gentle introduction to those who can open their hearts, and forgive them for what they represented in the past, and instead accept who they are today. They are very solemn and serious beings, and thereby do not grasp the concept of humor, especially that which is derived from the misfortune of others.

So what about their technology?

Here's what we know:

Scout Craft: Look like dew drops and beetle, and can vary in length from 100-400 ft (30.5-122 meters).

Mothership: Look like large tadpoles, and very enormously in length, from 1-400 miles (1.6-640 kilometers) across.

Could they be the source of the signal? Jon believes they are!

There we go passengers! A little bit more light-hearted and nerdy episode for you guys. With all of the alien talk around these days we figured this would be a fun episode to speculate upon! What do you guys think? Let us know.

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