The Wow! signal may have been a pair of comets


In 1977 radio astronomers at the Big Ear space telescope, searching for signs of extraterrestrial life, came across a signal that wasn't just odd, it was unbelievably strong! The signal, broadcast at at 1420.456 MHz, radiated from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius, and lasted just seventy-two seconds. When researcher Jerry R. Ehman came across the signal he wrote "Wow!" on the print out.

Antonio Paris, a professor of astronomy at Florida's St. Petersburg College, thinks he's figured out the source -- a pair of recently discovered comets!

Everything about the Wow! signal created huge interest. The frequency it was found on correlates strongly with the 'hydrogen line' and was believed to be a most-likely frequency to for Aliens to use when communicating with us. The intensity and sharp build-up/fall off of the signal led researchers to believe it came from a fixed point in the sky. Antonio Paris believes the signal was a sign of two comets, unidentified at the time of the recording, passing in front of the Big Ear.

Via New Scientist:

Comets release a lot of hydrogen as they swing around the sun. This happens because ultraviolet light breaks up their frozen water, creating a cloud of the gas extending millions of kilometres out from the comet itself.

If the comets were passing in front of the Big Ear in 1977, they would have generated an apparently short-lived signal, as the telescope (now dismantled) had a fixed field of view. Searching that same area – as subsequent radio telescopes did – wouldn’t show anything.

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Astronomer, NASA advisor, and serial sexual harasser Geoff Marcy to resign from UC Berkeley

Geoffrey Marcy, possibly contemplating his next victim. [NASA photo]

Geoff Marcy, a famous and respected American astronomer, has announced his intention to step down as a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News.

Marcy also works with NASA on the search for extraterrestrial life, via the NASA Kepler Mission.

Buzzfeed first broke today's news of Marcy's plans to step aside. It is the first real fallout he's facing from sexual harassment claims that the reported victims say were ignored for years.

Why would those claims be ignored by UC Berkeley? Because Marcy is kind of a big deal in the field of astronomy, and his name meant money for the struggling California academic institution. Read the rest

Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks with Edward Snowden


This week on the Startalk podcast, America's best-loved astronomer talks with my favorite whistleblower (MP3). Read the rest

Astronomer Seth Shostak: We'll find ET by 2037!

SETI Institute chief astronomer Seth Shostak bet hundreds of people at Boing Boing: Ingenuity that we'll hear from an extraterrestrial within 25 years. Find out why.

Fermi's Paradox, the tapeworm-and-anus versus

Fermi's Paradox speculates that the fact that our civilization has not yet encountered evidence of alien civilization implies that such life must not exist. In "Tapeworm Logic," Charlie Stross brilliantly skewers this by looking at the version of Fermi's Paradox that a tapeworm-philosopher might arrive at:

Our tapeworm-philosopher gets its teeth into the subject. Given that the human is so clearly designed to be hospitable to tapeworm-kind, then it follows that if there are more humans, other humans out there beyond the anus, then they, too, must be hospitable to tapeworm-kind. Tapeworm-kind has become aware of itself existing in the human; it is logical to assume that if other humans exist then there must be other tapeworms, and if travel between humans is possible—and we infer that it might be, from the disappearance of our egg sacs through the anus of the human—then sooner or later humans interacting in the broader universe might exchange eggs from these hypothetical alien tapeworms, in which case, visitors! Because the human was already here before we became self-aware, it clearly existed for a long time before us. So if there are many humans, there has been a lot of time for the alien tapeworm-visitors to reach us. So where are they?

Welcome to the Fermi paradox, mired in shit. Shall we itemize the errors that the tapeworm is making in its analysis?

Tapeworm Logic

(Image: segments, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from istolethetv's photostream) Read the rest

How to search for alien life without SETI

Look Ma, no SETI. 10 other ways to search for intelligent life in the Universe. (Via Sarah Zielinski) Read the rest