A controversial new study points to a potentially habitable star system as the Origin Of Wow! Signal, one of astronomy’s biggest mysteries that has baffled scientists since its detection in 1977.
The Origin Of Wow! Signal
On August 15, 1977, at 11:16 p.m., the Big Ear radio telescope received a radio signal of unknown origin for precisely 72 seconds coming from the eastern part of the constellation Sagittarius and reaching an intensity 30 times higher than the background noise.
According to the protocol used, this signal was not recorded but instead was recorded by the observatory’s computer on a section of continuous paper designed for this purpose. A few days later, the young Ohio State University professor Jerry R. Ehman, volunteering on the SETI project by reviewing computer records, discovered the strongest anomalous signal ever detected by a radio telescope.
The signal was known as Wow! due to Ehman’s annotation on the continuous paper, denoting his surprise and emotion. The sequence of the said signal was: 6EQUJ5.
Decades later, researchers still have no idea of the origin of Wow! Signal or what caused it, spawning a host of theories all along, from it being a pair of passing comets—which has since been debunked—to which is the ultimate proof that we are not alone in the universe.
Now, astronomer, Alberto Caballero has searched data collected by the European Space Agency’s Gaia space observatory to zero in on a candidate star system where the signal could come from, as detailed in a new article published in the International Journal . of Astrobiology.
The goal was to determine if there were any habitable star systems within the region where the Wow!, based on the assumption that “it came from a star system similar to ours,” according to the article.
Caballero narrowed his search to a single Sun-like star called 2MASS 19281982-2640123, located 1,800 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.
“There is a solar analog in the region where the extraterrestrial signal is coming from,” said Caballero. “Although this star is located too far away to send a response in the form of radio or light transmission, it could be a great target for observations looking for exoplanets around it.”
“This star has an estimated temperature only five degrees higher than that of the Sun, and almost identical radius and luminosity,” he argued in a 2020 YouTube video on the subject
While it’s certainly a bit of a stretch—Caballero makes some pretty broad assumptions to arrive at his candidate—other astronomers say it’s not as crazy as it sounds.
“I think it’s worth doing because we want to point our instruments in the direction of things that we think are interesting,” said Rebecca Charbonneau, a historian at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and an expert on SETI who was not involved in Caballero’s research. “There are billions of stars in the galaxy, and we have to find some way to narrow down and pick the places where we look.”
However, in case we look at 2MASS 19281982-2640123 with our telescopes and detect some habitable planet as the Origin Of Wow! Signal, it would take hundreds of years for our answer to arrive. In the meantime, Caballero suggests looking for exoplanets and technosignatures—technological signs of extraterrestrial intelligence—in that system and in other candidates.
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