About 35 years ago, Earth came as close as it’s ever come to communicating with extraterrestrials.
At 11:16 p.m. eastern time on Aug. 15, 1977, the Big Ear radio telescope in Ohio detected a narrow band radio transmission from what appeared to be outer space. Jerry R. Ehman discovered the signal a few days later, while examining computer printouts from the telescope.
There it was, a combination of six letters and numbers: “6EQUJ5.”
To most, the output would’ve been gibberish. But Ehman had written much of the software. To him, the letters and numbers spelled out a series of signal-to-noise ratios — the same ratios scientists expected to see if an alien culture, somewhere in the vastness of space, aimed a radio transmission at Earth. It could, Ehman knew, be first contact.
He scrawled a single word in the margin beside the output code: “Wow!” And thereafter, the transmission became known as the Wow! signal.
What the signal represents is ambiguous. Big Ear never detected the signal again, despite repeated attempts. Analysis indicated the signal probably lasted no longer than 150 seconds.
Was it really an alien transmission, or was it something more prosaic — a coded transmission from a satellite or spacecraft, a ground-based signal somehow picked up by the telescope, planetary noise or a one-time quirk, like a terrestrial radio transmission that had bounced off of a piece of space junk for a couple minutes? If it was alien, why didn’t it repeat? Were the aliens doing like Big Ear and searching an ever-changing grid? Could the telescope have happened upon it just before the transmission turned to focus on a different slice of space?
What is sure is that the signal was 30 times stronger than any other detected before or since by SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
“To this day it remains unexplained,” according to a news release from the National Geographic Channel, “and more importantly, unanswered. But if the Wow! signal really was a cosmic ‘tweet’ from our nearest neighbors, we think it’s high time we send an @reply.”
From 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. central time on June 29, National Geographic will collect tweets that bear the hash tag #ChasingUFOs. On Aug. 15, the tweets and videos from earthly notables will be packaged together and transmitted into space by the Arecibo Observatory, a massive radio telescope in Puerto Rico.
The effort ties in with National Geographic’s new television series, “Chasing UFOs,” which looks really cheesy (see videos below). But even if it’s a publicity stunt, it’s kind of cool to send a tweet into outer space.
For more information, go online to www.thewowreply.com.
About the video (courtesy of NASA):
Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the sun. During its five-year mission, it will examine the sun’s atmosphere, magnetic field and also provide a better understanding of the role the sun plays in Earth’s atmospheric chemistry and climate. SDO provides images with resolution 8 times better than high-definition television and returns more than a terabyte of data each day.
On June 5 2012, SDO collected images of the rarest predictable solar event–the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. This event happens in pairs eight years apart that are separated from each other by 105 or 121 years. The last transit was in 2004 and the next will not happen until 2117.
The videos and images displayed here are constructed from several wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light and a portion of the visible spectrum. The red colored sun is the 304 angstrom ultraviolet, the golden colored sun is 171 angstrom, the magenta sun is 1700 angstrom, and the orange sun is filtered visible light. 304 and 171 show the atmosphere of the sun, which does not appear in the visible part of the spectrum.
This is the most amazing photo of the Venus transit that I’ve seen so far. It’s an extreme ultraviolet image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Absolutely beautiful.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (not standing on it, as the rest of us are), you know that a rare astronomical event is drawing near.
On June 5-6, Venus will pass in front of the sun. It’s called the Venus transit, and it happens only once or twice in a lifetime.
The last transit was in 2004, but folks in Oklahoma couldn’t see it. If you miss this week’s transit, you won’t have a chance to see another. Venus and Earth won’t line up for a transit again until Dec. 10-11, 2117.
The transits generally occur on a 243-year pattern: For 105.5 years, Earth won’t see any transits. Then it will witness two transits over eight years, followed by a 121.5-year dry spell and two transits over the next eight years. Then it repeats: 105.5 years, 8 years, 121.5 years, 8 years. That pattern will continue until the year 2846.
What will you see? Something really cool but not terribly exciting.
Oklahomans, as staff writer Adam Kemp reported last week, should be able to witness about 2.5 hours of the celestial alignment. We’ll see the beginning of the transit and a good chunk of Venus’ passage across the face of the sun. Once night falls, Oklahoma’s view will end.
Over those 2.5 hours, we’ll see a small black dot appear on the sun and slowly move across it. That’s all. A black dot.
Won’t seem like much unless you think about what you’re seeing. That’s a planet, one of Earth’s siblings, that we’ll be able to see without a telescope. Over the course of centuries, our ancestors watched similar transits and divined meaning from them, even though they didn’t realize what exactly they were seeing. Nearly four centuries ago, astronomers used the transits to triangulate the distance between the Earth and the sun, giving them a way to measure the size of our solar system. Human ingenuity operating on a cosmic scale.
I hope humanity will see the transit as I do: a reminder of how vast is the universe and how petty our problems and prejudices. We’re all in this together, those of us on this rocky Earth, this bright blue marble — all together, spinning through space, lonely but amazing. Long after we’re gone, our children and our children’s children will look to the sky and see the same reminder. We are but a moment on this Earth, but space goes on and on.
If all goes as planned, James Doohan will be launched into space tomorrow (Tuesday, May 22).
Doohan, who played the perpetually overworked engineer Scotty on “Star Trek,” died in 2005. He was 85. Before his death, he requested that his body be cremated and his ashes sent into space.
So far, attempts to grant his wish have been unsuccessful.
In 2007, a space capsule containing his ashes reached suborbital space “for several minutes,” according to The Telegraph newspaper. However, the capsule fell back to Earth, and his ashes were lost in New Mexico for about three weeks.
SpaceX, the private space transport company, attempted to send some of his ashes into space in 2008. The rocket blew up and plunged into the Pacific Ocean.
Now SpaceX is ready to try again. The company has contracted with NASA to deliver a 1,000-pound payload of food and clothes to the International Space Station. The mission has encountered snags. Launch dates have come and gone; the current launch window is set for tomorrow.
If the mission succeeds, it will mark a new era in space travel. For the first time, a commercially owned space craft will dock with the space station, potentially leading to at least a partial shift from governmentally sponsored space flight to the privitization of space travel.
And if it succeeds, Scotty — as well as 307 others whose ashes are aboard the craft — will at last find his way into space. A capsule containing the ashes will be released from the rocket nine minutes into its flight. The capsule will circle the Earth for about a year before burning up in the atmosphere.
It’s a fitting end for a man whose work inspired generations of people to dream of a better future among the stars.
Move over, athletes. Nike is finally designing clothes for boffins.
The sportswear company is planning to release a line of products made from the same materials used in NASA space suits.
They look pretty cool, too.
The product line is built around the Mars Yard shoe, which is constructed of the “vectran fabric used for the Mars Excursion Rover airbags and detailing from the Lunar Overshoes used for the Apollo missions,” according to the Daily Mail. It isn’t cheap; the retail price is $385, and prices only go up from there.
A tote bag ($400) is made from a laminated polyethylene fabric called Cuben fiber; it includes 30 feet of paracord, a grappling hook and a pry bar.
A trench coat ($495) has the periodic table of elements printed on its lining, and the Mars Fly jacket ($475) offers adjustable sleeves, among other features.
Nike is smart enough to know its audience. The collection, called NikeCraft, is being marketed directly to the smart set.
“These shoes are designed to support the bodies of the strongest minds in the aerospace industry,” according to a Nike product description quoted by the Daily Mail. The shoes will “thrive in the rugged terrain of the simulated Mars Yard in Pasadena, CA – as well as stealthily creeping the mission-funding hallways of headquarters in Washington, D.C.”
NASA has come up with its best estimate of the number of potentially hazardous asteroids in our solar system.
PHAs, as they’re known, are asteroids large enough to survive entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Impacts could cause regional damage or global catastrophes. All of the asteroids pass within 5 million miles of our planet.
How many are there?
More than a few.
The estimate was made based on observations by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The asteroid-hunting portion of the explorer’s duties are called NEOWISE.
“The project samples 107 PHAs to make predictions about the entire population as a whole,” NASA posted today on its website. “Findings indicate there are roughly 4,700 PHAs, plus or minus 1,500, with diameters larger than 330 feet (about 100 meters). So far, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of these objects have been found.”
The website quotes Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observation Program.
“The NEOWISE analysis shows us we’ve made a good start at finding those objects that truly represent an impact hazard to Earth,” he said. “But we’ve many more to find, and it will take a concerted effort during the next couple of decades to find all of them that could do serious damage or be a mission destination in the future.”
Twice as many asteroids as previously thought are in lower-inclination orbits, which could align closely with the Earth’s orbit. That could open the door for interception missions, landing people or robots on their surface.
For more, check out the NASA website.
Welcome to the Oddities blog, where we’ll discuss everything from the Loch Ness monster to quantum physics.
This NewsOK blog will focus on weird-but-real science, folklore, UFO sightings, archeology, speculative technology, astronomy, strange theories, medical advancements, the oceans, “Ancient Aliens” and more. Hopefully we’ll still be around when the Mayan calendar ends.
If you enjoy learning more about the world and cosmos around you, or if you just like to read about the bizarre and unusual, bookmark this site and check back regularly. We plan to keep going until Earth collides with Nibiru/Planet X.
Hope you enjoy it.
The space shuttles are down for the count. Russia’s space program has an alarmingly poor success rate; China’s not doing great, and private companies such as SpaceX are still proving themselves.
Newt Gingrich’s failed presidential aspirations mean we won’t be seeing a moon base anytime soon, and a manned journey to Mars may never happen.
So what is the future of space flight?
One guy, at least, thinks it’s the Starship Enterprise.
He calls himself “BTE-Dan,” and he proposes that we devote our resources to completing a fully functional version of the space ship made famous by “Star Trek.” The job could be done in 20 years, he calculates, and the ship could reach Mars within 90 days of completion.
The disk portion of the space ship would rotate to create artificial gravity. It’d have two nuclear engines providing the electricity to power three ion propulsion drives, as well as a hole-patching system, crew quarters and a host of other features.
But why the Enterprise?
The whole country, if not the whole world, would back a venture to make such a vital part of pop culture a reality, BTE-Dan thinks. Space travel would regain the luster of its glory days, when astronauts were national heroes.
“We need a far grander vision of what we should be doing to get humans up into space,” he told theverge.com. “If we are going to ask taxpayers to pay billions of dollars for projects to put Americans into space, it should be for an idea that they can relate to and be inspired by.”
BTE-Dan isn’t an expert, but he thinks the task could be accomplished using existing technologies. He’s posted his schematics and ideas on a website called www.buildtheenterprise.com. Good luck logging onto it, though. In the short time it’s been up, his site has been overwhelmed by visitors. Last Tuesday, the site logged 100 visitors; by the weekend, it was up to 42,000. He had to purchase his own server and hopes to have it up and running soon.