It is August 15 1977. England and Australia are locked in the fourth Test Match at Headingley. If you got tired of cricket you could turn your dial to the Hit Parade Charts, which were topped by the Brotherhood of Man’s Angelo. But with the benefit of hindsight, the one to listen for was the astronomically-themed Magic Fly by Space, then at Number 27. For this was the day that the famous, enigmatic Wow signal arrived at the Big Ear telescope in Ohio. It has remained utterly inexplicable ever since.
Now it has been joined by a second candidate, detected by the Parkes Radio Telescope on Australia. It was another narrow band signal dubbed BLC-1, picked up in the spring of 2019. It seems to have come from our nearest neighbour. Proxima Centauri, which is known to have at least one rocky planet. Or did it?
The problem with both candidate signals is that they are one- off data points, quite unrelated to each other. Either could be little green men, earth interference, or something we don’t know about at all. The trouble with observing with just one radio dish is that you can’t be absolutely certain it was Proxima Centauri-there are hundreds of potential stars in the observation field. Good scientists can do little with single data points-they are as useless as single fact soundbites in politics.
As it’s quite important to know if anybody is out there, it’s time we tightened up on our techniques. Writing in The Conversation, Michael Garrett thinks they way to eliminate all these pesky ambiguities is by using many dishes across the globe at the same time. The technique is called Very Long Baseline Interferometry. The obstacles are formidable; it’s very new, and the amount of data to process is colossal. But we do at last have the computers to do it. If you really are interested in the science of aliens, and not flying saucer fantasies, this could at last be the way ahead. I know there’s a bit of science here, but don’t be put off; Michael writes very clearly. We give you a Wikipedia link on the Wow signal, in case you need refreshing.
#seti #extraterrestrialintelligence #biglisteningproject #blc1 #wowsignal #aliens