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Big Ear Entered in Guinness Book of Records

[Guiness Book Photo]

Big Ear volunteers pictured in photo (front row l-r): Cindy Brooman (Webmaster), Mark Sundstrom, Marilyn McConnell-Goelz, Steve Brown (Chief Engineer). Back row (l-r): Bob Dixon (Director of the SETI Program), Ang Campanella, Jerry Ehman (discoverer of the "Wow!" signal), Don James, Bill Shultz, Russ Childers (Chief Observer), Phil Barnhart (volunteer coordinator). Photo by Phil Barnhart. Animation by C. Brooman.

The Guinness Book of Records listed Big Ear under the category of Longest Extraterrestrial Search, complete with photographs of the Observatory and the volunteer staff. The entry read as follows:

The longest-running full-scale SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project is the Ohio SETI Program at Ohio State University in Columbus, OH, which has searched the universe for extraterrestrial radio signals for 22 years, beginning in 1973.

Robert Dixon, Director of the Ohio SETI Program at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio - the longest-running full-scale search for extraterrestrial life - doesn't choose to have any conception on an alien's physical appearance. But he does believe in the validity of the search for life on other worlds. "We don't really think in terms of visual images of aliens," Dixon says. "We simply want an answer to the question, 'Are we alone?' "

Dixon's questions may have been answered in 1977. The Ohio State radio telescope picked up a signal that Dixon describes as "unmistakably strong ... it bore all the right earmarks of being extraterrestrial." Dubbed the "Wow!" signal because of a comment written in the margins of the computer printout by one of the staff scientists [Jerry Ehman], the signal was at least one lunar distance away from Earth at a time when no publicly known satellites were near the source.

Unfortunately, the real origin of the "Wow!" signal will probably never be traced, as it came and went in only a fleeting moment. Dixon and his team have tried to reach that frequency countless times, but to no avail. Nevertheless, the Ohio SETI Program refuses to give up hope, and, undaunted by naysayers, it continues its 22-year mission. "Some people think the whole search is baloney," Dixon shrugs. "But once a signal is found, it means something is out there - and it becomes the plum of the century."

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Last modified: August 15, 2005