For decades, Robert Gray has been trying to duplicate the most surprising and still-unexplained observation in the history of the search for extraterrestrial life.
Gray: Well, astronomers generally look at things like stars, things that aren’t quite eternal, but that last for a really long time. As a result some astronomers may bring a certain expectation to a radio signal, an expectation that it’s going to be there all the time. The people who do SETI, who are often but not always astronomers, have a mindset that it’s sensible to look for the really strong signal that is going to be there all of the time.
Because my education is not in astronomy or engineering, it may be that I bring a kind of practicality to this, especially as it concerns the practicality and economics of what it takes to broadcast a signal like that. Broadcasters, just like those of us who are listening, might not be able to command enormous resources, they might not be in charge of whatever political systems are responsible for distributing resources to science in their little corner of the universe. And so as a result they might be forced to use signals that are not present all of the time and therefore those signals may be difficult to find.
The other thing is: Over the years I’ve talked to a lot of astronomers and a lot of people involved with SETI, and whenever the topic of the “Wow!” comes up, they seem to believe that everybody has looked for it, that it’s been checked out. But I’ve never been able to find anyone else who looked for it. In fact, nobody other than Ohio State seemed all that interested in trying to confirm it at all. Now fortunately that created a situation where I was able to convince several scientists to help me look for it, using various kinds of radio telescopes, including the Very Large Array, the Mount Pleasant Radio Observatory in Tasmania, and the small one that I built myself. So it’s possible that what I bring to this is simply the willingness to go out and look.
In a hundred years from now it’s likely that we won’t be limited to these giant dish things that stare at the sky and only see one little spot. It’s possible that there will be some sort of technology that can look at the whole sky at the same time, with the same sensitivity as you get with a big dish, and perhaps, when we look, at some interval we’ll see a flash, a signal, and maybe that’s the way we’ll find broadcasters, if any are out there. But in the meantime, you know, you have to keep a line in the water.
The ‘Wow!’ Signal: One Man’s Search for SETI’s Most Tantalizing Trace of Alien Life