Alien signal still a mystery - expert

2011-11-14 08:15
Professor Paul Davies has said that the 'Wow' signal received in 1977 remains unexplained. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Professor Paul Davies has said that the 'Wow' signal received in 1977 remains unexplained. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The controversial signal received from interstellar space in 1977 remains a puzzle and as yet, defies a natural explanation, an expert has said.

Researchers working at the Big Ear radio observatory at Ohio State University in 1977 discovered a record of a signal received from deep space.

"It's called the 'Wow' signal because it wasn't heard or picked up at the time. It was in the computer record which in those days was printed out on sheets of paper," Professor Paul Davies told News24.

Davies is the chair of the Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence): Post-Detection Science and Technology Taskgroup of the International Academy of Astronautics and a professor at Arizona State University.

"It was a rather long pulse; it wasn't a blip. It's never been satisfactorily explained as a natural phenomenon," he said.


In his search for extraterrestrial intelligence, Davies said that in the early 60s mainstream scientists regarded the field as ridiculous.

"In the 60s, if you said that you were looking for intelligent life in the universe, you might as well have said you were looking for fairies.

"Everybody was convinced that life was a bizarre freak, an aberration confined to Earth."

The signal which came roughly from the constellation of Sagittarius has never been repeated, but Davies said that astronomers did not have the resources to focus on one part of the sky.

"Whenever radio astronomers have had time to point their telescopes to that part of the sky, they have not picked up anything else.

"If they could just look at that region of the sky for a decade, maybe there'll be another one, but they don't have the resources to do that."

Davies has had a long career in theoretical physics, cosmology and astrobiology, and has authored several books, from The Physics of Time Asymmetry in 1974 to, most recently, The Eerie Silence.

In his role for Seti, he is tasked with proposing policies when contact is made with an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation.

He has an asteroid, 6870 Pauldavies, named after him and is the forerunner of the theory of panspermia - that life is widely distributed in the universe and on Earth, may have come from Mars through impacts with asteroids and meteors.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    astronomy

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