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In the mid 1950s, construction of the Big Ear Radio Observatory was
begun, a giant radio telescope to map radio sources from outer space, and
the telescope went into operation in 1963. And from 1973 to 1995, Big Ear
was part of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) program,
in an attempt to pick up extraterrestrial radio signals. And in 1977, it
might have achieved just that, receiving signals for 73 seconds that were
widely outside the norm, widely enough to raise some eyebrows (and cause
the lead scientist to put down "wow" next to the read-outs from
the telescope, hence "Wow Signal"). Were these really attempts
at communication by aliens or just some other disturbance by causes
unknown - we'll never know for sure, as these signals were never again
received, and Big Ear has long been torn down, making way for a golf
Now documentaries (often of the so-called variety)
about aliens, UFOs and the like are really a dime a dozen, and many are
purely speculative with little to no foundation in science, and many have
"I want to believe" written all over them. And in not only that
light, Wow Signal is a breath of fresh air, it takes its time
explaining the science behind it, it remains so based in facts that it
actually downplays its centerpiece, the actual "Wow Signal" and
cautions that its mere existence might be anything but an alien signal.
And that, really, is one of the strong points of this documentary, it's
not another piece of conspiracy theory and/or wishful thinking but deals
in facts, and by doing so manages to interest its audience in the science
behind it all, makes the fascination of astronomy outside of
sensationalism really palpable, thanks to a clever build-up that doesn't
give away too much too soon, well-chosen talking heads, and obviously
quite a fascination in its own subject. So if you only ever want to watch
one "alien" documentary, this one's probably it.