Alien signal still a mystery - expert

2011-11-14 08:15

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.

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  • Wikus - 2011-11-14 08:52

    You say this has no satisfactory "natural" explanation? I suppose supernatural will have to do then?

      mbossenger - 2011-11-14 10:04

      Natural as in natural phenomenon such as a pulsar. Once all natural phenomena have been eliminated we would look at "manufactured" phenomena i.e. man (or alien) made. I'm afraid supernatural has no place in science.

      Colin - 2011-11-14 10:41

      300 years ago flying was supernatural but today we all do it. The problem is that scientists try to shape reality around their theories instead of their theories around reality.

      Lila - 2011-11-14 11:15

      People should read the book of Enoch.

      Delusion - 2011-11-14 11:24

      Colin, Supernatural means "relating to or attributed to phenomena that cannot be explained by natural laws" "300 years ago" there a were flying birds and insects. Quite sure about that dear Colin There is some R10m in unclaimed prize money for anyone who can prove the existence of supernatural. Happy spending Theories NOT formed around reality is not science at all, at best pseudo science. Religious dogma fits that description quite well.

      mbossenger - 2011-11-14 12:38

      Colin - you do realise theories are formed based on observation and evidence, don't you?

      Michael - 2011-11-14 13:03

      Science once had people believe the earth was flat. Science once had us believe that the surface of Mars was a fiery hell... Try as they might, Science is not always right!

      Colin - 2011-11-14 13:17

      @delusions since we do not yet completely understand all the natural laws yet there are many phenomena that we would have to classify as supernatural until our own understanding has grown. Birds and insects might have flown 300 years ago but I'm sure humans did not. @bossenger since human understanding is limited our theories are based on not on observation and evidence but on the limited information we gain form our observations. This alien signal is a good example, we observed the signal but since we do not understand it our theories are limited by the information we can extract from it such as where it came from and when it was sent

      Delusion - 2011-11-14 14:01

      Michael, "science" did not believe the earth is flat. Uninformed, primitive people and mostly religious zealots believed that. Before mankind developed to a stage where we could start to practice serious science, there were speculation - mostly divine revelation about the earth's shape - certainly no science. Colin, the gaps in our (present) knowledge / understanding of what we know or observe are NOT automatically and by default filled by the "supernatural"- or by (your) god for that matter. If science cannot (yet) fully explain things, science simply acknowledges it by declaring "we don't know yet" - which is always the inspiration for new hypotheses and hopefully new scientific theory. Which in turn always remain open for rejection, confirmation or refinement. Very unlike dogma... "Science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything..Faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing. Coincidentally, miracles vanish in the presence of electronic recorders and scientists."-- Michael Jensen Not being able to fly 300 years ago was due to a lack of technology and / or understanding / working with natural laws. Nothing whatsoever to do with the supernatural.

      Colin - 2011-11-14 14:17

      delusions "we don't know yet" has never stopped scientists from theorizing or most of them of pandering out their theories as facts. Uninformed, primitive people were the scientists of a 1000 years ago and on whose observations form the foundations of what we know today. In a thousands years time the people of then will probably think of the scientists of today as uninformed, primitive people. Most scientists 300 years ago would have told you that it's not natural for metal to float or fly yet today its completely natural because our understanding grew. In another 300 years we might regard as completely normal what is now deemed supernatural

      Delusion - 2011-11-14 15:43

      Colin, you have a poor understanding of scientific theory, hypothesis, scientific facts, and how scientific theory is formed.

      Victor - 2011-11-14 16:53

      @Colin Argh! Science is a self-correcting discipline! "The problem is that scientists try to shape reality around their theories instead of their theories around reality." What a sweeping crap statement. Care to back it up with some hard evidence?

      Colin - 2011-11-15 16:17

      What a sweeping crap statement? The big bang theory has been proven to be wrong for several different reasons yet scientists persist in shaping their versions of reality around it even if they have to invalidate the laws of physics and invent new ones to make it possible.

      Dakey - 2011-11-26 00:48

      @Dilusion: "Michael, "science" did not believe the earth is flat. Uninformed, primitive people and mostly religious zealots believed that. Before mankind developed to a stage where we could start to practice serious science, there were speculation - mostly divine revelation about the earth's shape - certainly no science." Ironic that the father of modern science, Galileo, was a religious catholic! “I render infinite thanks to God for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries" The Catholic Church only taught the works of the athiest philosopher, Aristotle, who had managed to fool the majority of learned science into believing the Earth was the centre of the universe. It took another 'religious zealot', Copernicus and 1800 years of misguided science to finally re-ignite the heliocentric model of Aristarchus of Samos, putting the Sun at the centry of the solar system. But you're right, science is based on observation. World looks flat, it's flat. How long have we believe nothing travels faster than the speed of light... Modern science, where you can change your tune without being discredited every time you are proven wrong...

  • Clive - 2011-11-14 08:56

    Whatever could this be? maybe some occurrance that is common in the universe and we picked up this signal. How long have we been trying to prove alien life? One comment some time ago in the USA re: "aliens" 100% speculation not one shred of evidence, but think of the books and movies that can be made to try and prove their existance.

      Oneant - 2011-11-14 09:45

      "maybe some occurrence that is common in the universe and we picked up this signal." couch-side astrophysics is bliss, isn't it? dont you just maybe perhaps think that a team of people who have studied the nature of the universe for decades, just maybe, might, have ruled out this obvious conclusion no? Just MAAAYBE a signal with very low entropy cannot be produced by a system of high entropy at random? Huh? What you think?

      Victor - 2011-11-14 16:56

      Clive, "How long have we been trying to prove alien life" Not long. Have a look at what mindkind has achieved in the last 100 years. We have barely started scratching the surface!

  • Schalk - 2011-11-14 08:59

    So now they are tapping E.T.'s calls as well!? So much for privacy. We cant even handle inter-race or inter-relation issues. How on earth, will we be able to handle inter-specie issues? No, life is complicated enough, we dont need Aliens to the mix. Curiosity killed the cat.

      Brian - 2011-11-14 09:47

      This signal was received in the 60's. Do you suppose this was ET checking if his mate, malema, had arrived on earth yet?

      The-third - 2011-11-14 10:32

      curiosity makes life worth it bud. The alternative is living in a cocoon of knowing nothing. Nah.

  • Braam - 2011-11-14 09:02

    So true but plz remember we are only flying for 100 yrs let alone looking to Aliens. We just don’t have the technology to perform. We will, but it will only happen in the next 100 yrs

  • Xavier7034 - 2011-11-14 09:15

    it would be SO good if all countries joined together to explore outer space - much better than just squabbling about oil, climate change and whatever. At least it would advance technology, and generate jobs.

  • binarycape - 2011-11-14 09:23

    It could have been the LAST TIME that whoever/whatever sent the signal ever sent it. Maybe they had been sending for eons in the hope, like us, that there was other intelligent beings out there. Maybe they were a dying race, or their powers that be decided not to waste any more funds on searching, as they felt they were an aberration, the only quirk of life in the universe. After all why should we be the only ones to think along those lines?

  • Polok - 2011-11-14 09:24

    i really have no idea why the U.S invests so much in seeking alien life yet they can just take a trip across the block and interview malema and the other more advanced alien species,jacob Z. Fikile Mbalula apparently is a hybrid...

      Brian - 2011-11-14 09:49

      Perhaps it is because they're looking for INTELLIGENT alien life...maybe?

      Phoenix - 2011-11-14 10:29

      Oh seriously these malema comments are getting SOOOO lame.

  • Nectarios - 2011-11-14 09:29

    One Question I would Like to know though. "IF" there is life out there, and Aliens wish to contact us, and they do come down to Earth, What Guarantee do we as Humans have that we won't grab them and do all sort of experiments on them?? Know what I mean. Maybe that is why none of them have contacted anyone from Earth as they are afraid what we will do? (and I mean the governments)

      Oneant - 2011-11-14 09:42

      When you pull up next to an anthill in your SUV, are you afraid of what the ants might do to you if you take a closer look?

  • Ron - 2011-11-14 10:08

    some dude walked past with a two way radio and keyed it, that's all....

  • felican - 2011-11-14 10:08

    Well if people look at how in the 1977's there were many an unexplained phenomena and thing have evolved technologically in this the 21st Century. EVEN TO THIS DAY I am unable to explain an incident that occurred in 1977 on a Friday at 14:45 and which was seen by two of children with me at the time as well... Maybe we will have to wait for 2027 to know the true answer to the "WOW" that occurred?? Only The Shadow Knows. Because all is always revealed in its proper place and time - NOT when we ourselves WANT it to be.

      Victor - 2011-11-14 16:57

      "The Shadow"? WTF?

  • Rudie - 2011-11-14 10:35

    E.T tried to make a collect call.

      ivan.coetzee2 - 2011-11-14 11:29

      Exactly, conclusive proof of that

  • nortee - 2011-11-14 10:52

    *E.T. picks up a payphone* E.T.: "E.T. phone home..." Operator: "Please key in the digits for the number you wish to connect to..." *E.T. keys in about 45 digits* *.... 25 second delay ...* Operator: "Please deposit R50,000,000.00 for the first 30 seconds of your call" E.T.: "F--K this! Wtf isn't Skype invented yet?!?!" *E.T. hangs up*

  • Lee - 2011-11-14 10:57

    My dog is an alien; a stinky alient from the planet Turd from the Smelly Butt Nebulae

  • Lee - 2011-11-14 11:00

    Seriously now; aliens do exist; we are aliens to other civilizations, but we are talking about E.T.s. Extra-terrestrials exist, but the distances are too astronomical. And vacuum and no gravity also plays a big part in the Universe!

      Phoenix - 2011-11-14 11:05

      No gravity? You are kidding right?

      ivan.coetzee2 - 2011-11-14 11:33

      WTF are you on bud?

      mbossenger - 2011-11-14 12:36

      No gravity? Only the single most important force in shaping the universe?

  • Wim - 2011-11-14 11:31

    "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." He is saying that, is if to ridicule those skeptics of the 60s, almost as if undeniable evidence has since emerged, and today we are all supposedly convinced that this is worthy science. He, the man, Paul Davies, the thinker ahead of his time. "In his role for Seti, he is tasked with proposing policies when contact is made with an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation." .Wow, and they say playing computer games is a waste of time..

  • Stephen - 2011-11-14 11:48

    There have been other equally baffling "signals" as well such as the E Pegasi signal of the late '90s and the Chilbolton Glyph a few years ago where a monster size "replica" of the binary Arecibo message originally sent out into Deep space in the mid 70's, suddenly appeared overnight in a cornfield in Chilbolton, England, right next to an off-limits military dish radio antenna. The diagram was as near a replica as dammit apart from the codes denoting place in the solar system,appearance of the inhabitants,population,no. of DNA pairs and means of transmission. This is well documentd with pix on the net, see Enterprise

      Victor - 2011-11-14 16:49

      Enterprise mission is crap. Run by Hoagland who still claims the "face" on Mars was a real alien artifact.

      Victor - 2011-11-14 16:50

  • Patrick - 2011-11-14 11:54

    Watch a series called Ancient Aliens, seriously interesting questions posed.

  • Hugh - 2011-11-14 12:01

    if they do not have the resource to concentrate on one point in the sky for an extended period then what exactly is the point of the exercise. If it was a likely source then sit on it until the blip or whatever repeats.

      Victor - 2011-11-14 16:54

      Still better than not searching. Also - they just don't randomly sweep - they pick targets that are more likely.

  • RogerRoster - 2011-11-22 01:48

    I had a "Wow" experience myself back in 1981 when I was beamed out of my bed -- at lightening speed! -- straight onboard a UFO craft! I wrote about it at a website called ImaginativeWorldDOTcom about 3-years ago, should anyone be interested in reading about it. I'm TheBlackPanther there and my story is called "Here's my UFO experience" and can be found in the UFO section of said website. FWIW, EVERY word I wrote about it is true!!

  • Zion - 2011-11-26 13:46

    Professor Paul Davies is one of the greatest minds in his field. When he told a story of how the earth started for eg. then old and young, male or female knew what he was saying. He used language all could understand and made the complexities of say, time, to be mediocre and down to earth.

  • Lamadi71 - 2011-12-21 15:50

    its warm here by the fire--but why are there no shadows?

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