Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Space as Palimpsest: The Wow! Signal 6EQUJ5

Image Source: Bigear.org.

It's been just over 33 years since we received the only message from space that ever seemed to constitute an intelligent transmission: 6EQUJ5.  This message was picked up by the Big Ear radio telescope at about 11:16 p.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time on August 15, 1977 at Ohio State University Radio Observatory.  There is a history of the transmission hereDr. Jerry R. Ehman, who was part of the SETI project working at the Observatory, noted the transmission and made the famous margin note: "Wow!"  There is an explanation of the values 6EQUJ5 here (different numbers and letters measured intensities of power in the transmission).

Close-up of the computer print-out. Image Source: Bigear.org.

According to SETI, this message came from the constellation Sagittarius, with the closest star to the transmission being Terebellum (Omega).

Location of the source of transmission. Image Source: SETI.
From this origin point, the message was actually 200 years old by the time it reached us; and an answer from us would take another 200 years to reach the source in the Omega Sagittarii system.  That means that the senders would have to wait almost half a millennium to receive an answer to their original message from Earth.

Recording of the Wow! signal. Video Source: Youtube.
Caption from the video: "The Wow! signal was a strong, narrowband radio signal detected by Dr. Jerry R. Ehman on August 15, 1977 while working on a SETI project at the Big Ear radio telescope of Ohio State University. The signal bore expected hallmarks of potential non-terrestrial and non-solar system origin. It lasted for 72 seconds, the full duration Big Ear observed it, but has not been detected again. It has been the focus of attention in the mainstream media when talking about SETI results. Amazed at how closely the signal matched the expected signature of an interstellar signal in the antenna used, Ehman circled the signal on the computer printout and wrote the comment "Wow!" on its side. This comment became the name of the signal."

This year, Stephen Hawking mentioned this signal in his Discovery Channel series, Into the Universe.  In his first installment in this series, he discusses the possibility of alien life, what they might be made of, what aliens might be like.  He speaks of the chemical components of life: I didn't know that there were 45 pounds of carbon in the average adult man.  Nor did I know that carbon could conceivably exchanged with silicon as a building block for life (see part 3/5 of the episode below for the recipe that makes up a human being).  He also speculates that aliens might be made of sentient gas.  The Wow! signal is mentioned in the 4th Youtube segment of this episode, posted below.

Into the Universe, 1/5. Video Source: Youtube.

Into the Universe, 2/5. Video Source: Youtube.

Into the Universe, 3/5. Video Source: Youtube.

Into the Universe, 4/5. Video Source: Youtube.

Into the Universe, 5/5. Video Source: Youtube.

Hawking feels that communicating with aliens is risky.  He thinks that the key to space exploration and human-alien contact will ultimately result from anti-ageing research: "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet.  We humans are already capable of manipulating the course of our own evolution.  Exactly the same, presumably, would be true of advanced extra-terrestrials. Ultimately, they could halt ageing and become virtually immortal.  What's more, they might have reached that point millions of years ago. It might sound unlikely, but if you think about it logically, alien technology should be as extraordinary to us as a rocket ship to a caveman."


  1. I wonder why this revelation wasn't discussed more. And what about the notion that our radio signals are watered down after they leave the solar system? Did someone out there know to beam something directly at us, all those years ago?

    As for the anti-aging thing, that is of course speculation. What this does remind us of, though, is we need to get our own selves moving in an interstellar direction.

  2. I'm not sure about watered down radio signals.

    As for interpreting this signal, and assuming it could indeed be an intelligent transmission, as opposed to a thousand other possible things, we could ask if these creatures perceived that life might exist on earth in the 1770s, which prompted them to initiate contact (if such a thing is even possible). Moreover, I believe it would take an additional two hundred years for any signs of life (what exactly, I'm not sure, since this preceded the era of radio) from earth to reach them (less time for light from our planet), meaning they would be perceiving that there was a planet with life in this solar system in the 1570s, that reached them by the 1770s. Then they sent a signal that reached us in the 1970s. You see how this might get a bit drawn out.

  3. How I can contact Jerry R. Ehman? I have very big news for him.

  4. We maybe are making the assumption that the signal was intended for receipt by our Earth. It could just as much be for a unknown recipiant anywhere in space. That it took 200 years to reach us doesn't mean it wasn't a ocal, real-time signal meant for elsewhere.

  5. The signal could have been intended for receipt by another point in space, unknown to us. We cannot be sure we were the intended recipient.