About 40 years ago, we received a signal from outer space. This signal lasted for just 72 seconds. Due to the awesomeness of this signal the discoverer scrawled the word “wow” on the computer printout of the signal sheet. The signal, now known as the “wow signal,” happened just once and since then, different reasons have been brought forward to support this puzzling discovery; from unusual phenomena to transient events, and even aliens! Has this mystery been solved since then?
There is however, a new theory put forward by Florida professor Antonio Paris. Antonio, a professor of Astronomy at St Petersburg College in Florida, is of the firm belief that the signal may have originated from one or two passing comets. This he backed up with the argument that The Big Ear telescope in Ohio, which made the original discovery, had a fixed field of view. It therefore depended on the Earth’s rotation to span the sky, meaning it could only observe any given area for 72 seconds. This presents another angle; the limitation of the telescope was what determined the length of the signal.
While the same region where the observation was made has been monitored since then, there hasn’t been a recurrence of the phenomenon. This leads some researchers to believe that the occurrence was a one-off event. Paris believes otherwise. He believes the comets 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) could be the source of the signal. If that’s so, the puzzle is as good as solved.
“I came across the idea when I was in my car driving and wondered if a planetary body, moving fast enough, could be the source,”
While some are skeptical, Paris asks for his theory to be researched first before being accepted or disproved.
“The hypothesis must be tested before it is ruled out,” added Paris
The perfect opportunity will come in 2017, when Comet 266P/Christensen will be back in that region on January 25, 2017, and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs) on January 7, 2018.
Studying their radio emission and how quickly they move in the sky should allow astronomers to determine if the comets were really the source of the Wow! Signal.