August 15 marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Wow! signal—the radio signal detected by Dr. Jerry Ehman on August 15, 1977 with Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope. This signal, named after Ehman’s reaction, was “so strong that it catapulted the Big Ear’s recording device off the chart,” according to the Big Ear’s website. Some speculate this signal, which has never been detected again, could have originated from intelligent extraterrestrials. So to mark the anniversary of the signal, the National Geographic channel (NatGeo) is sending a return signal, of sorts, into space.
The network collected Twitter messages (tweets) on June 29 as part of a marketing effort by NatGeo to promote their television show Chasing UFOs. These messages will be beamed into space by the Arecibo radio telescope located at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The event will be broadcast live on NatGeoTV.com at noon Eastern time on August 15.
Lee Speigel of the Huffington Post explains that, although the Wow! signal was detected in the Southern Hemisphere, NatGeo’s signal will not be returning in that direction. Michael Nolan, an astronomer at the Arecibo observatory, explained to the Huffington Post, “Arecibo can’t look at that spot in the sky. We can only look at things that are in the Northern Hemisphere, and so, we’re not able to do that.” Speigel explains that astronomers from the SETI Institute in California were consulted about possible targets for NatGeo’s transmission. Based on recommendations, the Arecibo telescope will beam NatGeo’s messages in the direction of star systems with Earth-like planets.
Again, this whole exercise is mainly a publicity stunt to promote a television show. Nobody is expecting a response to the messages beaming to space on August 15. And after reading some of the embarrassing submitted tweets, it doesn’t seem that most of the messages deserve a response.