Saturday, March 29, 2014

Multiple Anomaly Detection & Automatic Recording (MADAR)


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MADAR

Reinvigorated by the 'Wow!'

By Billy Cox
De Void
3-21-14

      Last month — Feb. 19, at 3:30 p.m. to be exact — Fran Ridge donned his UFO-detective hat after hanging it up more than two decades ago. He says the inspiration is the quasi-recent discovery of his unwitting link to the signal event of radioastronomy’s SETI program — the iconic “Wow!” moment.

Ridge’s platform is a geek’s dream called the Multiple Anomaly Detection and Automatic Recording or, more precisely, the MADAR-27. He operates this UFO early warning system out of his home in rural Mount Vernon, Ind. From an outsider’s POV, this rascal looks loaded.

Primed to acquire, record and display the sort electromagnetic data and compass-needle effects associated with UFO incidents dating back to the 1950s, MADAR-27’s tripwire is a sensitive magnet variometer, which runs 24/7. Upon sensing a fluctuation in the local environment, the system activates a mode-control panel that, among other things, alerts the operator, green-lights a Geiger counter, converts live electromagnetic readings to visual pulses, and archives the entire event.

Ridge, site coordinator of the NICAP web page, which includes voluminous raw UFO incident data, assembled and worked MADAR-27’s predecessor beginning in 1970. Adjusting for natural background effects, Ridge recalls how “Some people said it was so sensitive it’d be going off constantly, but that didn’t happen.” In fact, over 21 years, he was able to document 24 ostensibly unnatural events. He bailed in ‘91 and summarized his findings in an obscure 1994 book called Regional Encounters: The SC Files.

And that was all she wrote, at least until 2010. That’s when a colleague drew his attention to a fascinating coincidence involving Ohio State’s Big Ear Radio Telescope in Delaware, Ohio, some 310 miles from Mount Vernon, in the summer of 1977. On Aug. 15 that year, radioastronomer Jerry Ehman, volunteering in Big Ear’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, scanned routine printouts from the night before and skidded to a stop. He scribbled “Wow!” in the margins beside an apparent signal code from the hydrogen band that lasted 72 seconds, consistent with the coverage window afforded by Earth’s rotation. In the 2010 email, one Byron Weber informed Ridge the “Wow!” occurred at the same time MADAR was logging a more localized anomaly.

Ridge reviewed the data from 1977. A six-week span during that Son of Sam summer had been MADAR’s most productive period when, during a sighting wave, it recorded seven disturbances, the last of which involved a 3-minute, 29-second pulsebeat, beginning at 10:14 p.m., Aug. 15. The Big Ear dish clocked the “Wow” at 10:16 p.m.

After repeatedly failing to reacquire the signal, which initially appeared to emanate from the constellation Saggitarius, SETI suggested Big Ear got tripped up on Earth-based or space-debris clutter. But in 2007, Ehman had eliminated those suspects to his satisfaction and wrote “The origin of the Wow! signal is still an open question for me.”

Jazzed over the connection — MADAR also detected background radiation readings that were twice the normal levels for 8/15/77 — Ridge reached out to SETI in an effort compare notes. Results: predictable.

“They wouldn’t talk to me, and I can sort of understand that, they don’t want to get involved with ufologists,” Ridge says. “But I think they should’ve been interested in corroborating data because this wasn’t a UFO incident per se. The fact that they picked it up at the same time suggests the disturbance was spread out over a wide area.”

Anyway, Fran Ridge is back online now, and with MADAR-27’s digital technology humming along, its capacity is orders of magnitude better than its 20th-century predecessor. The system isn’t portable, but Ridge hopes to create a nationwide network at some point with the introduction of smartphone apps.

“This is an open-ended project,” he says. “I’m 71 years old now and I’m hoping something important happens. I think I’ve earned it.”


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