[Big Ear Masthead]

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 that file.

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 radio telescope?
A: 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: http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/.

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 Photo(s)

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Last modified: February 20, 2008.