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No. 64: Jul-Aug 1989

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The 1977 "wow" signal

Anatomy of a 'WOW' signal
Anatomy of a "WOW" signal. Vertical ordinate represents intensity; horizontal axis is frequency in intervals of 10 kilohertz. Time axis runs into the chart with 12-second intervals.
Over the years, several large radio astronomy antennas have listened for "intelligent" radio signals from outer space. The acronym SETI is customarily applied to such searches; SETI standing for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

There have been a few exciting false alarms during these listening periods, but most could be attributed to known natural radio sources or manmade interference. All in all, it has been rather disappointing to those who are sure someone else is out there.

The major exception in the SETI record was the so-called "WOW" (like Egad!) signal picked up in 1977 by a radio telescope at Ohio State University, in Columbus. The bandwidth of the sig nal was narrower than those of most natural sources; there was also some evidence of periodic and drifting features. The signal never recurred, nor could it be correlated with any manmade or natural radio sources.

(Eberhart, Jonathan; "Listening for ET," Science News, 135:296, 1989.)

Comment. We can only speculate as to what alien intelligence might mean. Then, too, aliens have probably progressed far beyond primitive radio communication!

From Science Frontiers #64, JUL-AUG 1989. 1989-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987