The short story, What I Intend, by Robert Reed in Asimov’s describes as its premise the big question – are we alone? – and the conundrum this question presents.

“The WOW signal from back in the seventies. For one brief moment, our sky was filled with a radio song that was both powerful and almost certainly not from around here. And why we don’t talk about WOW every day of our lives… well, that’s another conundrum.” – Robert Reed, What I Intend.

The story was great and it got me to wondering about the WOW signal so I read more. My surf through Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, revealed fascinating complexities of the 1977 signal and subsequent work to find other signals. Even better is the 30th anniversary report of the event.

A scan of a color copy of the original computer printout, taken several years after the 1977 arrival of the Wow! signal. Credit: The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory.
A scan of a color copy of the original computer printout, taken several years after the 1977 arrival of the Wow! signal. Credit: The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory.

On the 35th anniversary of the Wow! signal the Arecibo Observatory beamed a response from humanity, containing 10,000 Twitter messages, in the direction that the signal originated. It certainly is a sign of the times – the triumph of social media.

While it’s quite remarkable that humankind has decided to use Twitter to provide the format and content for possible first contact. My historian side can’t help thinking of more enduring formats and better content to communicate with other intelligent lifeforms.

Then again, people may have said something similar about the golden record placed aboard Voyager, which now plunges through space, to tell our story.

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