Nearly 50 years ago, astronomers detected what is considered the best evidence of an alien radio signal from space. Now one astronomer says he may have found the star system where it came from.

May 21st

Many if not most people have probably heard something about the "Wow! Signal," which remains the presumed best evidence of a radio transmission from extraterrestrial intelligent beings:

The Wow! signal was a strong narrowband radio signal detected on August 15, 1977, by the Ohio State University's Big Ear radio telescope in the United States, then used to support the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The signal appeared to come from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius and bore the expected hallmarks of extraterrestrial origin.

Astronomer Jerry R. Ehman discovered the anomaly a few days later while reviewing the recorded data. He was so impressed by the result that he circled on the computer printout the reading of the signal's intensity, "6EQUJ5", and wrote the comment "Wow!" beside it, leading to the event's widely used name.

Very exciting stuff—and a cosmic mystery for nearly five decades. Now, however, one amateur astronomer says he may have narrowed down the very star system where the signal might have originated:

A scientist may have pinpointed the origin of the Wow! Signal, the most famous alien radio broadcast in history, making it an ideal candidate for future research and observations in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

The study, which was polished in the peer-reviewed academic periodical The International Journal of Astrobiology, suggests that the famous signal could very well have come from a star located in the Sagittarius constellation that is similar to our own Sun.

This is worth emphasizing: The fact that the signal may have originated from a star system with a star "similar to our own Sun" is very big news. The radio signal, after all, would have almost certainly had to originate from the surface of a habitable planet—and the odds are that much higher than a star "similar to our own Sun" would be home to such a planet.

The researcher had to do a good bit of legwork to come to his conclusions:

To narrow it down, the researcher behind it made use of the European Space Agency's Gaia Archive, which contains data on the deduced positions, motions, brightness and more of objects in the Milky Way galaxy and beyond.

Here, they made use of the original estimates that narrowed down the origin of the signal to two regions and added a number of parameters and variables. Specifically, it came with the goal of narrowing it down to a certain kind of star that is the same type as the Sun, as the Sun is the only star confirmed to be able to support life.

With all these parameters, the researcher was able to narrow it down to 38 candidate stars. Then, when specifying it for Sun-like stars, it was narrowed down to just one star, designated 2MASS 19281982-2640123.

Very exciting stuff! One caveat, of course: 2MASS 19281982-2640123 is a bit of a hike, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,800 light-years, which...well, one light-year is nearly 6,000,000,000,000 miles, so it's not exactly an afternoon jaunt.

You know what that means: Get those stasis pods ready, because it's gonna be a long trip!


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