An astrophysicist in Florida may have finally cracked the mystery behind a strange radio blast from space known the "Wow!" signal, which many believe could be proof of extraterrestrial life.
The Wow! signal was discovered by astronomer Jerry R. Ehman on August 15, 1977 using the Big Ear radio telescope at Ohio State University. The instrument was pointed toward a group of stars known as Chi Sagittarii when it suddenly detected a strong blast of radio waves that lasted for about 72 seconds.
When Ehman saw the reading, he circled the point where the radio blast occurred and simply labeled it as "Wow!"
Researchers analyzed the Big Ear's read out and saw that it had characteristics that could prove it really came from outer space. This led to the notion that the radio signal could likely have been broadcasted alien lifeforms.
However, since the radio blast was never detected again despite numerous attempts by scientists over the years, the origin of the signal remained largely unexplored.
Antonio Paris, an astronomy professor at St. Petersburg College in Florida and former analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense, offers a possible explanation to what could have created the Wow! signal in 1977.
In a study featured in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, Paris described how he was able to examine the area of space where the Wow! signal likely came from.
While he didn't find any alien species, he did come across two comets named 335P/Gibbs and 266P/Christensen, which could be the culprits behind the powerful radio blast detected by the OSU's Big Ear radio telescope.
Despite being in the area of Chi Sagittarii when the Wow! signal was detected, no one explored the possibility that the comets could have caused the radio blast because researchers only found out about their existence in 2008 and 2006 respectively.
Paris believes that radio blast could have been emitted by massive hydrogen gas clouds that surround comets. The 1420MHz radio frequency at which Ehman detected the Wow! signal is typically associated with hydrogen emissions.
To prove his hypothesis, Paris plans to study the two comets as they make their pass in the vicinity of Chi Sagittarii again. 266P/Christensen is set to make its transit in the area on Jan. 25, 2017, while 335P/Gibbs is set to make its own transit on Jan. 7, 2018.
However, before Paris can conduct his observations of 266P/Christensen and 335P/Gibbs, he still needs to secure a radio telescope of his own since all of the other instruments in existence are already being used.
He has set up a GoFundMe crowdfunding drive in order to raise the $13,000 needed to purchase a new radio telescope for his observation. He has received donations from people who support his project and is on his way to meeting his target amount.
Paris and his colleagues are aware of the criticism thrown at them by fellow scientists, but they believe that even if their hypothesis ends up being wrong they can still learn more about comets through their observation.
If the source of the Wow! signal turns out to be not comets, then researchers at SETI still have a chance to prove that radio blast did indeed come from extraterrestrial lifeforms.
Photo: Tony Netone | Flickr