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Wow! Communications from little green men?

Credit: Diceman Stephen West (Own work). CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. parkes-radio-telescope
Figure 1. The Parkes radio telescope.

John G. Hartnett

Published: 5 April 2016 (GMT+10)

Several years ago (2010) I met an astronomer from Jodrell Banks radio telescope (one of the first big ones operated by the UK) and she told me the story of a signal being detected which was thought to be from some intelligent alien source in the cosmos.

The signal was detected at 10.30 am every time. After some investigation, it turned out to be the microwave oven used to heat the muffins for morning tea. It was from an intelligent source after all, but not from space. Her anecdote sounds very similar to what was proven to have been the source of some anomalous signals at the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.

Perytons at Parkes

According to Simon Johnston, head of astrophysics at CSIRO, in 1998 the Parkes radio telescope began detecting some fast radio bursts and related signals named perytons once or twice a year. It was theorised that these may have been signals from another galaxy, or emissions from neutron stars becoming black holes, or just interference from lightning strikes. But in 2015 it was determined that perytons were detected by the Parkes telescope when staff opened the door of the microwave oven at the facility to heat their lunch.1

“ … 1 January [2015] they installed a new receiver which monitored interference, and detected strong signals at 2.4 GHz, the signature of a microwave oven.”1

Immediate testing of the facility microwave oven did not show up any perytons. Until, that is, they opened the oven door before it had finished heating. “If you set it to heat and pull it open to have a look, it generates interference,” Johnston said.1

Problem solved! No signal there from ‘little green men’ either!

Prior to the installation of the new microwave oven, the old oven operated at 1.4 GHz and was the source of those spurious signals for a long time. 1.4 GHz is very close to the frequency of the 21 cm (8 in) wavelength signal astronomers very frequently look for as it comes from hydrogen atoms, which are common in space.

The Wow! signal

On 15 August 1977, radio astronomers using the Big Ear radio telescope at Ohio State University picked up a powerful signal from space. Some believed it was our first interception of an alien broadcast.

The signal—known as the “Wow! signal” after a note scribbled by astronomer Jerry Ehman, who detected it—came through at 1.420 GHz, corresponding to a wavelength of 21 cm (8 in). Searchers for extra-terrestrial transmissions have long considered it an auspicious place to look, as it is one of the main frequencies characteristic of hydrogen.2

Figure 2. Astronomer Jerry Ehman wrote “Wow!” on this print out when he was examining potential signals for an intelligent source.

This was a one-off and they never heard anything like it again. In this case it was determined that it did come from space and not some pesky microwave device. So ET was suspected.3 Now, astronomy Professor Antonio Paris thinks the signal might have come from one or more passing comets. He suspects two comets, called 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs), which were not known in 1977. Others, however, are not so convinced.

Therefore to test his idea, Prof. Paris proposed to search the same region of space that Big Ear was pointing at when these comets return. They will transit the region on 25 January 2017, and on 7 January 2018, respectively. An analysis of the hydrogen signal of the comets should reveal if he is correct (I suspect he is).


These stories are only significant because of the evolutionary belief system, which says that if life evolved on earth it must also have evolved elsewhere in the cosmos. Mankind now has been searching for 50 years, fruitlessly, for a source of intelligence from the cosmos. But God the Creator has already revealed that He is the Intelligent Source from which life came, when He created Adam from the dust of the ground.

References and notes

  1. Tan, M., Microwave oven to blame for mystery signal that left astronomers stumped, May 2015; theguardian.com. Return to text
  2. Famous Wow! signal might have been from comets, not aliens, January 2016; newscientist.com. Return to text
  3. Forum: Wow! Was that ET?, New Scientist 2094:46, August 1997; newscientist.com. Return to text

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Readers’ comments

Gordon S.
Seeking for intelligent life in space appears to date to be fruitless. Certainly angels exist but their dwelling is not in the heaven that can be researched, but outside that (Daniel 2:11; Matthew 22:30). Neither God, Christ nor angels dwell in the heavens that we can see. As I think has been said before there is a vast amount of evidence of the work of an intelligent mind in the codes found in the genomes of living things, but evolutionists appear to shut their eyes to this evidence.
Michael S.
John this is a brilliant little example you've pulled, of the probability-argument. I think this is also very relevant to the claims that crop up, that life has been found on Mars or outside of earth's atmosphere. We can see how strong the probability argument is because if we think we have something like bacteria, what is the probability of it actually coming from earth, a planet close to Mars? Probably about near 100% probability. It is the exact same mistake they are making here with signals from space, they are favouring an astronomical probability-figure (pardon the pun). Another example is when people think there are ghosts in their house, they hear creeks and knocks in the night in old houses. What are the odds that it is is a ghost and what are the odds that it is a common noise, given that noises are rather common? Finally I apply this argument to intelligent design. Given there are millions of parts in an eyeball that are all clearly in their place for the obvious purpose of achieving viable sight, then what are the chances it evolved compared to the chances it is designed? It doesn't take Einstein to answer that question! :-)
gabriel S.
Apart from the obvious tragic 'humour' of the microwave ovens there is a striking analogy between the search for extra-terrestrial life and some 'missionary outreaches' in certain church denominations.
In these 'churches' a lot of money is being spent on what is called missionary work, but which is actually purely humanitarian - not unlike the UN. The further abroad the better! What's the use having a full stomach and going to Hell?
Whereas the need for fulfilling the great commandment of Christ in Matthew 28:19 is largely ignored.
The questions here are
• 'who is your neighbour?'
• 'where is your neighbour?' and
• 'is your neighbour saved?'
The bottom line in both cases - the search for extra-terrestrial life, and proclaiming the gospel of Christ - start at home! For neither the problem nor the answer is far away, it is the sin within and right next to us.
In Christ

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