The WOW Signal: Mankind's First Contact?

Centuries, or even decades from now, the history of mankind will judge the WOW signal as either just another naturally occuring anomaly in the Universe, or, perhaps, mankind’s first contact w/ extra terrestrial intelligence.


The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, otherwise known as SETI, was set up in the 60s to enable scientists to detect signals from other possible extra-terrestrial civilizations. They were not just looking for any signal, they were looking for a SPECIFIC TYPE of a signal.

That signal they were looking for composed of the following properties:

* It should cover a narrow spread of frequencies
– Most KNOWN natural radio sources cover a broad spread of frequencies, so a signal w/ a narrow band is more likely to have beenartificially generated;

* It must come from beyond the distance of the Moon
– This is to ensure that such signals have not been generated from Earth;

* It must be near the 1420 Mhz neutral Hydrogen frequency.
– Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe, likely to be a common denominator among various civilizations (if any) across the galaxies. It also a relatively ‘quiet’ frequency, free from natural radio interferences. So, any civilizations out there other than our own might see it as a good signal band to use for perhaps communicating w/ other civilizations, or for perhaps inter-planet/stellar communications.

‘The WOW Signal’

Well, guess what? They found that signal in Aug. 15, 1977. The name of the signal, refers to the “Wow!” inscription that SETI volunteer Dr. Jerry Ehman wrote on the computer printout margin when he first saw the signal. The signal lasted for about 72 seconds, or 3 minutes, but it did not contain any sort of message.

So, SETI found the signal which they were looking for. But there was one, big, problem: It wasn’t repeatable. Subsequent searches have been done around the area where the signal occurred showed no such occurrence again.

Since it wasn’t a, “Hello-Earth-this-is-the-Borg-calling-prepare-to-be-assimilated” type of a signal, then it was important that it be repeatable so it can be accepted by the scientific community as a proof of alien intelligence. It wasn’t.


After the first euphoric observation by Lehman, the subsequent analysis of the signal ended up subdued, mainly due to the lack of repeatability of the signal, & the fact that the signal occurred in 1977, very much at a time when the Cold War between the US & USSR was in effect. There was a possibility, that the signal could’ve been a result of a cold war experiment, or secret military operations between the two warring countries. However, years after the end of the Cold War, no such information about the signal have ended up, ruling out this possibility.

Subsequent analysis of the signal thru the years also have strenghtened the case for it being an alien signal. The only other alternative, or plausible explanation now for the signal, aside from it being a signal from an extra terrestrial civilization, is that it is a currently unknown natural anomaly that occurs in the Universe.

‘Allen Telescope Array’

Some scientist are optimistic that, once the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is completed by the year 2025, we would know whether there really are intelligent life out there transmitting radio signals or not. The project is named after its benefactor, Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder), & will eventually be composed of 350 individual radio telescopes. It is the Radio-Observation-Device to end all Radio-Observation-Devices. If there is an alien signal out there, this one will find it. Again, & again.


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