Frequently Asked Questions
- Q:How did the "Big Ear" radio telescope work?
- A:Information about the design, construction and functioning of this radio telescope is obtained by clicking on the link entitled: Design and Building of the Big Ear". [Be sure to read the next question and answer so that you realize that you can't take a tour of the Big Ear.]
- Q:I would like to visit
and take a tour of your Big Ear Radio Observatory. What do I need to do?
- A:The Big Ear radio
telescope was destroyed by land developers in early 1998. These developers
bought the land on which the Big Ear and associated facilities stood in order
to increase the size of a nearby golf course from 9 holes to 18 holes and to
build some 400 houses on land nearby. Since the Big Ear radio telescope no
longer exists, it is impossible to visit it.
- Q:I would like to obtain
an audio tape of the "Wow!" signal. Can you provide that to me?
- A:At the time Big Ear
recorded the radio signal that later became known as the "Wow!" signal (based
on the notation that Dr. Jerry Ehman wrote in the margin of the computer
printout), there was no audio recording equipment attached to the output
of that radio telescope. Hence, it is impossible to provide an audio tape
of that signal.
- Q:I remember an episode
of the TV show "The X-Files" (entitled "Little Green Men") that mentioned
"my buddy Jerry Ehman" who discovered the "Wow!" signal and showed the
computer printout of that signal. Did they have the actual computer
printout? Was the audio they played in the background the actual audio
from the Big Ear radio telescope?
- A:To answer the first
question, the producers of the show did not have the actual computer
printout of the "Wow!" signal, but they did create an excellent copy.
To answer the second question, the sounds that they used on that episode
had nothing to do with the "Wow!" signal; they were simply sounds that
the "X-Files" folks picked to set the mood in that TV show, and they had no
relation to the signal we received. Note that there was no audio recording
of the "Wow!" signal at the Big Ear radio telescope (see previous question).
On this website we have an audio file of a portion of the "Little Green
Men" episode that you may listen to. It will require that you have a Real
Audio player or equivalent because the file format is a "ram" file. The name
of the file is "xfiles.ram"; Please click here to play
It turns out that there were at least two errors made in representing the
"Wow!" signal on the TV show.
(1) It was said that the "Wow!" signal was "intermittent". We cannot
determine if the signal was "intermittent" or not. Since we obtained one
data point per channel every 12 seconds (10 seconds for observing plus 2
seconds for analysis and printout), any variation in the signal more
frequently than once every 12 seconds could not be detected. The average
value of the signal was almost perfectly constant over the total time of
72 seconds that it was in our beam (after removing the effect of the beam
pattern). However, since we had two beams separated by about 3 minutes and
we saw the signal in only one beam, we can say that the signal did not last
more than 24 hours (when we should have seen it again; we didn't!). Thus,
the term "intermittent" is true only on a time scale of 24 hours but not
on a time scale of 12 seconds.
(2) It was also said that the signal was like Morse code. In the comment
above to the first error, it was noted that no variation of the signal
with a time scale less than 12 seconds could be detected. We saw no evidence
of any variation (including the variation that would have occurred if Morse
code had been used) during the 72 seconds in which the signal was observed.
- Q:Since the Big Ear radio
telescope was operated by volunteers in the last years before it was
destroyed, what are you volunteers doing now? Is there some new project you
are working on, and, if so, where are you now located?
- A:Just before the bulldozers
came in to destroy the Big Ear, we had a very short period of time to move
some of our equipment and most of the records to another location. We were
able to move to a much smaller facility on the West Campus of the Ohio State
University, in Columbus, Ohio. We began to pursue the concept of an "Argus"
type radio telescope originally conceived by Dr. Robert S. Dixon (who was the
Assistant Director of the Big Ear Radio Observatory under Dr. John D. Kraus,
the Director). We have another website that deals with what our group of
volunteers is doing now. It is located at
argus.naapo.org (note that NAAPO stands
for North American AstroPhysical Observatory, the organization we formed to
carry out our operations and for accepting tax-deductible donations from the
public for our work).
- Q:What is an Argus-type
An Argus-type radio
telescope consists of many small elements. Each element contains an antenna that can "see" (i.e., receive radio signals from) the entire hemisphere of sky from the horizon in all directions to the zenith (the point overhead). Each element has two stages of amplification to increase the strength of the weak signals received, and a filter to reduce the level of unwanted signals (interference). Typically, there are additional devices to both convert the high-frequency signals down to lower frequencies and to further amplify those signals. At the end of the chain of components is a device called an analog-to-digital converter which converts the amplified continuously-varying (analog) electronic signals into digital data. These elements are not hard-wired together, as in phased arrays, but the digital data from all of the elements are mathematically combined (within one or more computers) to allow as many beams in as many points in the sky as desired to be created at the same time. This is in contrast to the situation with big radio telescopes that have just one (or possibly a very small number) of very small (i.e., narrow in each dimension) beams in the sky at once. Those big radio telescopes can "see" only a millionth or billionth of the sky at any one time, while an Argus-type radio telescope can see the entire hemisphere of sky at once. In addition, if the digital data is stored for a long time, it is possible to reanalyze that data days or years later to search an area of sky that was either not previously analyzed or else was previously analyzed but possibly with an old analysis
technique that has been updated.
- Q:How can I find out more
about Argus-type radio telescopes? Are you building one?
- A:We have another website: argus.naapo.org that talks about the concepts behind Argus, and information about the Argus-type radio telescope we are building.
- Q:I would like to make
a donation of my time or money or equipment or land to your organization:
NAAPO. How can I find out more about this?
- A:Go to our website:
www.naapo.org. Near the bottom of the home page is a link to a menu of more links. These links take you to several pages dealing with donations of those types. [Note that we are now able to accept monetary donations via PayPal.]
- Q:How can I get
involved in a SETI project?
- A:If you are an amateur
(ham) radio operator or have good electronic skills, you should visit
The SETI League website.
- Q:Where can I get
information about the SETI@Home Project run by Dr. Dan Werthimer at
Berkeley SERENDIP (also referred to as a SETI screen saver)?
- A:If you have a computer
that is left on much of the time, you might be able to help
process SETI data from the Arecibo Radio Telescope. Visit the
SETI@Home Project, which is
available at the following URL:
- Q:Can you help me with
my school homework about radio astronomy?
- A:It depends. If you have
a very specific question that can be answered fairly briefly, then we might
be able to help you. However, a question like "Can you tell me everything
you know about radio astronomy?" will show that you haven't done your
homework on the basics, and we can't do that part for you. Please keep
requests brief and to the point. Also realize that, even if we decide to
respond to you, we may not be able to give that response quickly, since each person in our group is a volunteer and has other responsibilities.
- Q:I need original
photographs or high-resolution images of one or more of your photographs
for a publication. Do you have them available? Or, can I have reprint
permission for some of your Web images?
- A:There are very few original
photographs of the Big Ear Radio Telescope still available. Also, there are almost
no high-resolution digital images of it available. As you may have noticed,
most of the digital images of Big Ear and associated facilities are of low-to-medium resolution.
Keep in mind that NAAPO (the organization that continues on after the
destruction of the Big Ear radio telescope and associated observatory)
is run entirely by volunteers. In the unlikely situation that a photo actually exists and in order to fulfill your request we would
have to locate the photograph that you are requesting, and then we would need to find a volunteer willing to take on
the task of having a reproduction made. (We would also need to request
that you pay for having the reproduction made, since NAAPO runs on a
limited budget.) This effort would take some amount of time to accomplish,
so please make requests such as this well in advance of the time you
would need it.
There are no original photographs remaining of the images which appear
in the online Cosmic Search magazine, nor are there high-resolution images
available. As far as original photo credits are concerned, the original
webmaster compiled a list of photo credits
for the photos which appear in the online version of Cosmic Search. The
only information we have at this point is the information (if any) which
was printed next to the picture. If a name other than ours appears, we
cannot give reprint permission (Cosmic Search was authorized to use photos
but was not allowed to extend that authorization to others).
Only the entity listed could grant the permission. If a photo was not
credited, then there is no information available, and most likely no way
to find out.
Reprint permissions may be given for any low or medium resolution images
used on this website. Please specify which image(s) you would like to use,
and we may be able to allow use with proper credit given. To request
such permission, send an e-mail to our webmaster by clicking on the
following link (which will start your e-mail program and will fill in the
Subject for you automatically):
Requesting Permission to Use
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Last modified: February 20, 2008.