If you talk to a member of SETI, he’ll probably tell you the closest we’ve ever got to finding scientific evidence of Extraterrestrial intelligence was in 1977, professor Jerry Ehman at Ohio State University detected a peculiarly-strong signal from deep space using the Big Ear radio telescope. This is the famous Wow! signal, which was cemented in popular culture thanks to a brief mention during the start of The X-Files’ second season.
But now Antonio Paris, professor of astronomy at St Petersburg College in Florid, wants to burst our galactic bubble. His explanation for the Wow signal? The passing of one or two comets.
He points the finger at two suspects, called 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs). “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,” he says.
Paris theorizes that the large quantity of hydrogen released by the comets as they were passing right in front of the Big Ear, could have generated the strong signal which caused the excitement of Ehman and spurred almost 40 years of speculation among SETI scientists.
Other astronomers are skeptical that cometary hydrogen could create a signal that ‘bright’ in the radio frequency of the electromagnetic spectrum –because if they did, radio telescopes would be picking them up all the time. But the strength in Paris’ hypothesis is that it can be tested: All we have to do is wait for those comets when they return to our solar neighborhood, and listen closely:
To test his idea, Paris proposes looking at the same region of space when the comets are back. Comet 266P/Christensen will transit the region first, on 25 January 2017, then P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs), on 7 January 2018. An analysis of the hydrogen signal of the comets should reveal if he is correct.
If Paris is correct, then that gives yet another blow to the SETI methodology for searching intelligent life we can Skype to. Then again, if you’re reading this then chances are you’re already of the opinion that SETI is a pointless endeavor, because the aliens are ALREADY visiting us –or that instead of Skype they rely on PSI abilities to chat with self-proclaimed Contactees.
Here is important to point out how Antonio Paris, unlike most of his colleagues, is not hostile to the UFO phenomenon. In fact, he’s the director and founder of the Aerial Phenomena Investigation Team, intended to investigate UAPs through the lens of Science. He’s been on many podcasts and radio shows, and here you can listen to an interview conducted by Open Minds’ editor Alejandro Rojas.
Should we mourn the Wow! signal’s possible unexciting explanation? Certainly not, IMO. After all, as the late Terence McKenna used to say, “to search expectantly for a radio signal from an extraterrestrial source is probably as culture-bound a presumption as to search the galaxy for a good Italian restaurant.”