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Radio Astronomy Displays at the
Ohio Historical Center
Columbus, Ohio

By Dr. Jerry R. Ehman

Each of the photos shown below may be viewed in a larger size by clicking on the smaller-size version shown here.


On August 15, 1977 a strong narrowband signal was received on the "Big Ear" radio telescope of the Ohio State University (OSU). A few days later, when Dr. Jerry Ehman was looking over the computer printout, he noticed this signal. He immediately recognized this as the strongest narrowband signal ever received by the "Big Ear". He was so astonished by this signal that he wrote the notation "Wow!" in the left margin of the computer printout opposite the data. After analysis by: Dr. John D. Kraus (the Director of the OSU Radio Observatory (OSURO)); Dr. Robert S. Dixon (the Assistant Director of OSURO); Dr. Ehman; and others, this signal became known as the "Wow!" signal (or "Wow!" source). That name has become known worldwide in the subsequent years.

Several documents exist on this website including a long and technical article written by Dr. Ehman himself (you may look at his article as well as other articles by going to the home page of this website and click on the menu item "About the "Wow!" Signal"). As Dr. Ehman notes in his article, there is no definitive explanation for this "Wow!" signal.

A group of volunteers operated the "Big Ear" radio telescope for many years after funding from the National Science Foundation was cut due to an unfortunate decision to fund the national facilities more and universities less. In 1983 the owners of the land on which the Big Ear stood (the Ohio Wesleyan University of Delaware, Ohio) sold the land to developers. Until 1998 the developers leased the land to the OSURO to allow the Big Ear to continue to operate. In late 1997 the group of volunteers was told to stop observations and to vacate the land, because the developers wished to start making money by expanding an adjacent 9-hole golf course into an 18-hole course and by building some 400 houses on part of the nearby land they owned. After moving as much equipment, records, and other items to a location on the OSU West Campus, the Big Ear was destroyed in early 1998.

After retaining the computer printout on which the "Wow!" signal appeared for over 20 years, the group of volunteers decided to donate that printout to the Ohio Historical Society (OHS). The OHS decided to store that printout in its archives at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, Ohio.

On February 28, 2002 Dr. Ehman attended a reception at the Ohio Historical Center to introduce a new set of displays entitled "Ohio Originals". These displays included the display of the "Wow!" signal computer printout as well as many other displays involving events that occurred in Ohio's history. Several days after this reception Dr. Ehman learned from an official of the Center that the display of the "Wow!" signal computer printout would probably remain up only for about 6 months due to the fragility of the computer paper under the lights of the display case. After that time, the printout would be stored in a safe place out of the view of the public. Thus, the pictures that you see below (taken in early March 2002) do not represent the displays that you would see now if you visit the Ohio Historical Center because they periodically change several of the displays from time to time.


The Ohio Historical Center is located in Columbus, Ohio near the Ohio State Fairgrounds. It is easy to get to. Take Interstate 71 and exit at the 17th Avenue exit. Go west on 17th Avenue just a few hundred feet and turn right onto a road that leads you to the Center's parking lot. There is good signage. There is no charge to visit the Center.

OHS Sign OHS Building The first photo to the left shows the sign (visible from Interstate 71) for the Ohio Historical Center (OHC). The second photo shows the OHC building.

The "Wow!" Signal Display (and Releated Photos)

Ohio Originals Sign The "Ohio Originals" set of displays was viewable by the public for less than one year from March 2002 onward. New sets of displays often replace other sets of displays periodically.

Display Cabinets-View 1 Display Cabinets-View 2 These two photos show the display cabinets that contained various "Ohio Originals". The "Wow!" signal computer printout is barely visible on the right side of the bottom shelf of the rightmost cabinet.

Computer Printout-View 1 Computer Printout-View 2 These two photos show the "Wow!" signal computer printout taken without flash. Dr. Ehman's writing of "Wow!" in red pen on the left side of the printout is barely visible (click on the second photo to see a larger version of the photo).

Caption for Wow! Display The card on the display cabinet gives the caption for the "Wow!" signal computer printout. The quality is not the best because there are reflections off the glass cabinet.

The three photos below show the "Wow!" signal computer printout (on the right side of each photo). To its left in each photo is the display for White Castle, a fast-food restaurant started in Columbus and famous for its inexpensive hamburgers. These photos were taken using flash.

Wow! with Flash-View 1 Wow! with Flash-View 2 Wow! with Flash-View 3

PHOTO CREDIT: All photos were taken by Jerry Ehman.



Copyright © 2003-2004 Ohio State University Radio Observatory and North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO).
Designed by Jerry Ehman.
Last modified: August 10, 2004.