For sale: souvenirs of a close encounter

For sale: souvenirs of a close encounter


By Marcus Chown PIECES of the radio dish which picked up the most tantalising evidence to date of extraterrestrial intelligence are up for sale. The 260-foot Big Ear dish at Ohio State Radio Observatory carried out the longest running search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) programme. It shot to stardom in 1977 after it picked up the so-called “Wow!” signal—a blast of radio power which lasted 37 seconds, from the direction of Sagittarius. This signal has never been explained. Paul Shuch, director of an organisation of amateur SETI enthusiasts called the SETI League, based in New Jersey, believes that the signal must have come either from an alien civilisation or an as yet undiscovered type of astronomical object. “Either possibility is mind-boggling,” Shuch says. The Big Ear dish was demolished earlier this year to make way for a golf course. But before that happened, 100 small pieces of the metal mesh covering its surface were rescued by members of the SETI League. The salvaged pieces are 10.5 centimetres square—half the Big Ear’s operating wavelength—and mounted on wooden plaques. “These sections of antenna reflector were actually illuminated by the Wow! signal,
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