Wow Signal is a 2017 documentary movie that tells the story of radio astronomy, the search of extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), and the prospects for discovering evidence of other technological civilisations in the galaxy, using the August 15, 1977 detection of a candidate signal by the Ohio State University Big Ear radio telescope as the centrepiece. This signal, now called the “Wow! Signal”, passed every test for being a genuine narrowband signal originating from a source well beyond the Earth, not interference from an Earth satellite or other spacecraft, and precisely what would be expected for an interstellar beacon. But it was only observed for 72 seconds and has never repeated, so it remains an enigma.
The movie is a masterpiece of the documentary art:: it is devoid of sensationalism, gets the facts right, features the individuals who were involved in the events it describes, and gets out of the way and lets them tell their stories in their own way. The production values are superb.
You can now view the complete film for free on YouTube.
Thank you for sharing - I will watch the movie.
Separately, I wonder whether this signal is the space age equivalent of the Viking failed settlements at Anse-aux-Meadows? Sort of “we’ll be back” at a different timescale. Five hundred years later, big ships came back (albeit further south) and the rest is history…
First contact almost always ends in despair for the less technologically advanced group. Seems like the primitive tribes on North Sentinel Islands in the Indian Ocean have an intuitive grasp of this
There are a lot of possibilities. We may be presumptuous in assuming the signal (if it is of alien origin) is a beacon intended to signal other civilisations or even directed particularly at us. A signal such as the one detected is completely consistent with leakage from a microwave propulsion beam as may be employed by a mature spacefaring civilisation to deliver payloads within their solar system and launch probes to nearby stars. Such a system has been proposed to launch the Breakthrough Starshot micro-probes to Alpha Centauri within 20 years. Since the propulsion beam was tracking an accelerating spacecraft it was pushing, it would only sweep across the Earth for a brief period of time and never repeat. To be efficient, it would be narrow-band, but carry no information modulation. In short, it would exactly like the Wow! signal.
Because we have no all-sky, all-the-time monitoring for signals like this, they may be happening all time and we only happen to detect one on those very rare occasions when we happening to be looking in the right place at the right time.
Thank you for linking to this movie, Mr. W… The parts on the development of radio astronomy, the Ohio Big Ear, and the Green Bank Observatory were particularly interesting. And it is certainly always good to talk about the challenges of funding research.
The only regret is that the movie did not explore where in the sky the apparent signal came from, nor the frequency on which the signal was detected.
Would it have much effect on society if we unequivocally detected signals from another world? I sort of doubt it. Given the vast emptiness of our galaxy, two-way communication would likely take longer than a human life time. And there is always the issue in Liu Cixin’s trilogy “The Three Body Problem” – surviving societies may be those which maintain silence themselves while destroying any other society which breaks silence.