If you thought proof of extraterrestrial life would come in the form of a photograph of an alien, perhaps verified footage of a UFO, or Lindsay Lohan tearing off her skin after a coke binge to reveal her true alien body, you're probably curious what that string of numbers and letters to the right represents and why it means that aliens might actually exist.
This concrete-ish proof was found back in 1977. Jerry Ehman, who was working at Ohio State at the time, was volunteering with SETI — the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — and this data from the "Big Ear" of Ohio State was passed to him. He was shocked enough to write "Wow" in red ink. We're guessing that was the Jerry Ehman equivalent of running through the streets naked shouting "Holy shit" — which is what we would have done.
What does that seemingly random string of letters and numbers mean? And why does it sorta confirm that ET's not only out there, but he's a fan of AM radio?
The answer, my friends, after the jump.
Eighteen years earlier, two Cornell physicists, Philip Morrison and Giuseppe Cocconi, had tried to imagine how an intelligent alien civilization might try to signal Earth. We should look, they said, for a radio transmission. Radio waves are cheap to produce, don't require much energy and travel vast distances across space.
Cocconi and Morrison guessed that the aliens would choose a frequency that would mean something to creatures who know math and chemistry. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. Zap a hydrogen atom and it will resonate at a particular rate: 1420 megahertz (MHz). So look, they said, for a signal coming in at 1420 MHz. And look for something loud, something that would catch our attention.
And on Aug. 15, in it came, exactly as predicted.
What Jerry saw was, yes, a radio signal and, yes, a radio signal very, very close to 1420 MHz (it was 1420.4556, just a smidge from where it was expected). It lasted 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. It was loud. And the transmission had the shape that Cocconi and Morrison had predicted. If you look at this printout, you will see this sequence of letters and numbers: 6EQUJ5.
So, aliens exist? Maybe. You just have to read the whole NPR story to find out for sure.