The 'Wow!' SignalThere is only one scenario under which the scientific community will ever accept that we are not alone: aliens land on the White House lawn, obliterate the government with their superior proton ray weapons, and enslave all of humanity.
One wonders, then, what is the point of having a large and expensive program to Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, if scientists are simply going to ignore any results the program generates?
For instance, the SETI apparatus lit up with an incoming narrow-band radio signal from outer space on August 15, 1977 -- exactly the sort of signal the system was looking for, a signal so extraordinary that the astronomer on duty scribbled "Wow!" on the printout. And while no one knows to this day what caused the signal, any scientist will tell you it sure as hell wasn't alien life.
Of course, there is some ground for skepticism. The signal did not offer a blueprint for clean, efficient solar power. Nor did it contain a cure for cancer. Nor did it read "To Serve Mankind." No, the first thing that outer space had to say to the world was the following bit of profundity:
OK, that wasn't exactly the content of the message. It's actually a transcription of signal intensities over about 60 seconds, but that little string of characters is what prompted astronomer Jerry Ehman to write the infamous Wow! on a hard copy of the signal.
The SETI Project consists of a battery of radio antennae pointed toward outer space and listening for any sign of life out there -- whether reruns of "I Love Alien Lucy" and "Alien Star Trek", late-night alien Cinemax or a notice that the planet has been scheduled for demolition.
The problem, of course, is that aliens are not likely to speak English or send messages in conformant ASCII code. Therefore, SETI just listens for anything that sounds unnatural or out of the ordinary. Whenever something like that actually happens to pop up, SETI immediately declares it the result of radio-band interference from passing helicopters, terrorism or sunspots, then everyone goes home safe in the knowledge that there are no aliens. This costs millions of dollars per year, which, shockingly, is not underwritten by taxpayers.
The signal was received by the "Big Ear" Ohio State University Radio Observatory, which almost 20 years later was razed -- much to the future embarassment of Ohio Wesleyan University, which owned the land and is responsible for transforming the site of possibly the first ever message from intelligent life in the universe into the back nine of a nearby golf course.
That's assuming, of course, that the Wow! signal ever amounts to anything. Ehman, the scientist who immortalized himself with those three little letters (plus exclamation point), has gone over the data at some length and feels that the source of the transmission remains unexplained.
Ehman listed the possibilities that he and his colleagues have ruled out in a 1997 article marking the 20th anniversary of the signal's reception:
Ehman believes that the signal may very well have originated with extraterrestrials. Of course, if you had received the signal, you would want to believe that too. Other scientists have a considerably more skeptical view of the Wow! signal.
For example, in 2005, Dan Wertheimer, a SETI researcher who would himself like to be listed in the history books, told New Scientist magazine: "We've seen many signals like this, and these sorts of signals have always turned out to be interference." Of course, the fact that other signals have turned out to be the result of interference is not the same thing as saying you have evidence that the Wow! signal was the result of interference.
Despite all this scientific jibber-jabber, no one seems to want to talk about the elephant in the room. At the very moment the Wow! signal was received by the Big Ear, another historic event with tremendous interstellar ramifications was taking place just a few hundred miles to the South -- Elvis Presley was sitting in a dentist's chair being treated for a toothache.
Presley returned home from his appointment and "died" the following morning. Obviously, the Wow! signal was received by the King's fillings, no doubt calling him to the mountaintop where he would hitch a ride to the stars, perhaps to meet his higher destiny -- as a quaint zoo exhibit peforming three times nightly in a casino on Betelgeuse Five.