Wow! signal
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Basic Information

The Wow! signal was a narrowband radio signal discovered on August 15 1977 as a part of SETI. It was observed at the Big Ear Telescope of Ohio State University. It was the highest power of transmission the telescope has ever picked up. The excited scientist who first detected it wrote "Wow!" in the margins of the only print-out of the data, hence the name it's commonly known by.

The Wow! signal bore expected hallmarks of non-terrestrial and non-solar system origin, coming from the constellation of Sagittarius and lasting for 72 seconds. It was an extremely high-power transmission, and very narrow band. The entire transmission was very near 1420 Mhz, which scientists have identified since 1959 as being (for mathematical and chemical reasons) the most likely frequency to expect a transmission that was intended to seek out alien life. To this day, the Wow! signal remains SETI's best lead on possible communication from another world.

However, no repetition was recorded of the signal (although observation of the source eventually stopped), making it unclear if it really originated from an extraterrestrial civilization. If the aliens were trying to reach us, they never called again. (The fact it was never heard from again doesn't quite rule out it being from an alien intelligence. In 1974 we earthlings sent off a powerful transmission via the Arecibo radio telescope, using a simple mathematical code to depict a human, a DNA strand, and map of our solar system. We sent this Arecibo message just once and never followed up in the 40+ years since - so why assume that any extraterrestrials reaching out would do better than us?)

In the years since reception of the Wow! signal, the Big Ear Telescope has been torn down, and the land sold. There was a bit of a scandal when the grounds the telescope occupied were sold, with the scientists working on the telescope project feeling betrayed. A college president resigned over it. A golf course now stands on the spot where Big Ear once was listening.


2. Non-Fiction Book: 13 Things That Don't Make Sense by Michael Brooks. - The seventh chapter of this book is all about the Wow! signal.

Game and Story Use

  • What would have happened if there were further signals from the same source - signals clearly proving the existence of an alien civilization out there? Even if contact never goes beyond that (thanks to lack of FTL), human civilization might have seen significant social and cultural changes thanks to this revelation…
  • What if the "signal" was actually a self-broadcasting life form existing as a radio wave - which has been received by the Big Ear Telescope and afterward reassembled into an immaterial life form now roving the area? Perhaps someone should look into weird events in Ohio starting in 1977
  • Big Ear may have been torn down by order of Majestic 12, the Men In Black, etc, either to destroy evidence and keep the public in the dark, or to protect us all from the aforementioned immaterial life form.
  • Within a few hours of the signal reaching Earth, Elvis Presley died. Did the aliens call him home? Or was this the first extraterrestrial assassination?
  • Makes a great point of divergence for an alternate history game.
    • You play in 1980, and the world has been in contact with aliens for three years, with the societal upheavals are just starting to settle down. Jimmy Carter is U.S. President - and as a UFO witness himself, he made no efforts to hide the truth from the public.
    • Or, you could set it a few years further down the road, and mine some of Ronald Reagan's somewhat infamous "alien threat" quotes from 1985 as well.
    • Does alien contact end the Cold War early (as Reagan suggested it might), or lead to heightened competition as each side tries to look good in the eyes of the aliens?
    • Do things like the October Surprise or Iran-Contra affair happen (or get any press) if the world is focused on watching the skies?
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