The Wow! Signal: A Possible Message from Aliens?

June 1, 2023 6 mins to read

The Wow! Signal: A Possible Message from Aliens?

The idea of life existing outside of our planet is one of the many mysteries in the cosmos that continue to fascinate and excite us. People have long pondered if we are actually alone in the universe or whether there are other entities out there eager to make contact as they look up at the stars. Then, in the summer of 1977, a burst of radio waves discovered by the Big Ear radio telescope in Ohio shocked the scientific community and captivated the public’s interest unlike anything that has come before or since. Called the Wow! Signal, this cryptic signal has remained a mystery for almost four decades, allowing us to consider the enticing prospect that we may have received a message from an alien civilization.

What is the Wow! Signal?


Explanation of the Wow! Signal’s discovery and characteristics:

First, let’s examine what the Wow! Signal is and how it was detected. The signal itself was a brief burst of radio waves that lasted for 72 seconds, and was heard only once. It was named the Wow! Signal because of astronomer Jerry Ehman’s excited annotation on the printout of the signal that he was analyzing.

So what are the possible explanations for the Wow! Signal? One possibility is that it was caused by a natural phenomenon, such as a comet or a satellite. However, these explanations have been largely discounted because the signal’s characteristics don’t match those of any known natural source. Another possibility is that the signal was a result of human error, either in the telescope’s hardware or in the data analysis. While this is a possibility, the fact that the signal was heard only once, and has never been detected again despite numerous attempts, makes it unlikely.

Big Ear radio telescope and how it was used to detect the signal:

The signal was detected by the Big Ear radio telescope, which consisted of a large parabolic dish antenna that was fixed in one position and scanned the sky as the Earth rotated. The telescope was designed to search for extraterrestrial intelligence by scanning a narrow band of radio frequencies centered around 1,420 megahertz, a frequency that is thought to be significant because it corresponds to the wavelength of the hydrogen atom, which is the most common element in the universe.

Possible Explanations for the Wow! Signal


Possibility of the signal being of extraterrestrial origin:

  • The signal’s frequency and intensity were consistent with what we might expect from an intentional radio transmission from a distant star system. Specifically, the signal was broadcast at a frequency of 1420 MHz, which is the same frequency as the hydrogen atom, a common element in the universe. This has led some to speculate that the signal was an intentional message from an alien civilization attempting to make contact with other intelligent beings.
  • The signal was brief, lasting only 72 seconds, which is a relatively short time for a natural astronomical phenomenon. This brevity suggests that the source of the signal was small and focused, rather than a diffuse event like a supernova or a pulsar.
  • The signal was never detected again, despite extensive searches using the same telescope and other instruments. This lack of repeat signals makes it difficult to explain the Wow! Signal as a natural phenomenon, since most astronomical phenomena are recurrent and predictable to some extent.

Factors that make the extraterrestrial hypothesis plausible:

Critics of the extraterrestrial hypothesis have argued that the Wow! Signal may have been a fluke, or that it may have had a natural explanation that we simply don’t understand yet. They point out that the signal’s duration of 72 seconds is exactly the length of time it would take for the telescope’s beam to sweep past a stationary object in the sky, which could indicate that the signal was from a local source rather than a distant one. Additionally, they argue that the lack of any other signals from the same direction suggests that the signal was not from an intelligent source.

Criticisms and Controversies Surrounding the Wow! Signal

Despite these criticisms, the Wow! Signal remains an intriguing mystery that has captured the public imagination. The idea that we may be receiving messages from intelligent beings on other planets is a thrilling one, and it has inspired many people to pursue careers in science and technology. The discovery of the Wow! Signal has also spurred further research into the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, including the development of new technologies and methods for detecting and analyzing radio signals from space.

The Implications of the Wow! Signal:

  • The Wow! Signal, if of extraterrestrial origin, has profound implications for our understanding of our place in the universe and the potential existence of other intelligent life beyond Earth.
  • The discovery of the signal has sparked debates about the best way to approach the search for extraterrestrial life, with some advocating for caution and others arguing that we should actively seek out and make contact with other civilizations.
  • The potential consequences of contact with an extraterrestrial civilization are difficult to predict and could have far-reaching implications for human society and the planet as a whole. This has led to discussions about how we should prepare for such an eventuality and what our response should be if and when it occurs.


The Wow! Signal is ultimately like a mysterious riddle that hasn’t been cracked. It raises issues about the nature of the universe and our role within it, compelling us to confront the notion that we are not alone in the cosmos. The ramifications for humans are both thrilling and terrible if the signal was in fact a message from an extraterrestrial civilization. Would we be prepared to hear such a message, or would it rock our civilizations and change how we perceive the world and our position in it?

How cool! In the end, Signal is comparable to a baffling puzzle that hasn’t been solved. We are forced to face the idea that we are not alone in the universe since it raises questions about the nature of the world and our place within it. If the signal was a communication from an alien civilization, the consequences for mankind would be fascinating and awful. If we were to get such a message, would we be ready to accept it, or would it upend our civilizations and alter the way we view the world and our place in it?



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