43 years is a long time to solve a riddle, but when the outcome can reveal whether or not intelligent alien civilizations exist in the universe, it is worth the wait.
When Jerry Ehman, who worked the radio telescope counter at the Big Ears Observatory, Ohio, recorded an enormously complicated radio signal arriving from space, he famously wrote the phrase “WOW! next to the reading in the computer printouts.
At that time it was hypothesized that it came from an advanced civilization, and now, 43 years later, a citizen scientist has plumbed the depths of the Gaia Star Catalog and determined the most likely location, right down to the star, WOW! the signal originated from.
Alberto Caballero states that the signal came from a body in the habitable zone that surrounds a star similar to the Sun called 2MASS 19281982-2640123, approximately 1,800 light years from Earth in the constellation of Sagittarius.
This was based on data from the Gaia Archive, a huge database of positions, mass metrics, speeds of movement and brightness of 1.3 billion different stars compiled by the European Space Agency.
gentleman concludes that 2MASS is “therefore an ideal target for observations in the search for potentially habitable exoplanets.”
The Big Ears Observatory has looked more than 100 times towards the region of space that produced the long and complex radio signal to see if it ever repeated or transmitted others, as the radio signal occupied the potential 72 seconds of the capacity of Big Ears measurement, but nothing like the Wow! the signal has been re-recorded.
Speaking a year after his retirement, Jerry Ehman noted how much the totally distracted squiggle came to define his career, as every time Big Ears accomplished something important, reporters called and asked about him and his Wow! moment.
“I wish when I spoke to journalists there was something more to say about it. I’d like to say, ‘Wow, that’s a sign of extraterrestrial intelligence,’ Ehman said. Big Ears Magazine in 1994. “I honestly can’t do that.”
The star’s distance from Earth means that it is too far away to send any kind of response. If scientists wanted to see if aliens existed around 2MASS, they would have had to send a radio signal salute of their own under the auspices of the Roman Emperor Hadrian to get it there today.
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