Robert H. Gray

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Robert H. Gray
Robert H Gray 2012.jpg
Gray in 2012.
Born1948 (age 70–71)
ResidenceChicago, Illinois
Alma materShimer College
University of Illinois at Chicago
OccupationData analyst, writer, astronomer
Years active1982-present
Spouse(s)Sharon A. Hoogstraten

Robert H. Gray is an American data analyst, author, and astronomer, and author of The Elusive Wow: Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.


Gray attended Shimer College, a Great Books school then located in Mount Carroll, Illinois, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1970.[1] He went on to obtain a master's in urban planning and policy analysis from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1980.[2]


Data analysis[edit]

In 1984, Gray founded the company Gray Data in Chicago, which provided data analysis research services and published reference cards for microcomputer software.[3][4] He continues to work as a data analyst through his company Gray Consulting.[5]

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)[edit]

Gray is best known for his work as an independent SETI researcher,[6][7] especially in regard to his searches for the Wow! signal.[6] The Atlantic called Gray "the 'Wow!' signal's most devoted seeker and chronicler, having traveled to the very ends of the earth in search of it."[8]

The Wow! signal was detected by the Ohio State University Radio Observatory (also known as Big Ear) on August 15, 1977. The signal was so pronounced in the data, and so similar to a radio signal rather than a natural source, that SETI scientist Jerry R. Ehman circled it on the computer printout in red ink and wrote "Wow!" next to it.[9] After hearing about the Wow! signal a few years after its detection, Gray contacted the Ohio team, visited Big Ear, and spoke with Ehman, Robert S. Dixon (director of the SETI project) and John D. Kraus (the telescope's designer).[5]

In 1980, Gray began scanning the skies from his backyard in Chicago, using a 12-foot commercial telecommunications dish.[5][10][11][12] He operated his small SETI radio observatory regularly beginning in 1983 and for the next 15 years, but did not find a trace of the Wow! signal.[5] In 1987 and 1989 he led searches for the signal using the Harvard/Smithsonian META radio telescope at the Oak Ridge Observatory in Harvard, Massachusetts.[13] In September 1995 and again in May 1996, Gray and Kevin B. Marvel reported searches for the signal using the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope in New Mexico[14][15] (which is an array of 27 dishes simulating a single dish with a diameter of up to 22 miles),[5] becoming the first amateur astronomer to use the VLA, and the first individual to use it to search for extraterrestrial signals.[8] The VLA was, until the end of the twentieth century, the most powerful radio telescope ever built.[8] In 1998, he and University of Tasmania professor Simon Ellingsen conducted searches using the 26-meter dish at the Mount Pleasant Radio Observatory in Hobart, Tasmania.[7][8][13][14] Gray and Ellingsen made six 14-hour observations where the Big Ear was pointing when it found the Wow! signal, searching for intermittent and possibly periodic signals, rather than a constant signal.[7][9] No signals resembling the Wow! were detected.[7]


Gray and Marvel published a 2001 paper in The Astrophysical Journal detailing his use of the VLA in search of the signal.[8] Gray and Ellingsen published "A Search for Periodic Emissions at the Wow Locale" in the October 2002 issue of The Astrophysical Journal, reporting on searches for the Wow! signal.[16][17] In 2011, Gray published the book The Elusive Wow: Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, summarizing what is known about the Wow! signal, covering his own search for the signal, and offering an overview of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.[8][13][18] Gray concluded that the signal could have come from an alien "lighthouse".[6]

In 2016, Gray published an article in Scientific American about the Fermi paradox, which claims that if extraterrestrials existed, we would see signs of them on Earth, because they would certainly colonize the galaxy by interstellar travel. Gray argues that the Fermi paradox, named after Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi, does not accurately represent Fermi's views. Gray states that Fermi questioned the feasibility of interstellar travel, but did not say definitively whether or not he thought extraterrestrials exist.[19]

Personal life[edit]

Gray lives in Chicago, Illinois,[7] with his wife, photographer Sharon A. Hoogstraten.[20]



  • Robert H. Gray, The Elusive Wow: Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Palmer Square Press, 2012)



  1. ^ Shimer College Alum Directory. Waukegan, Illinois: Shimer College. 1997. p. 42.
  2. ^ Participants, Accessed July 8, 2016.
  3. ^ Decennial Census Data for Transportation Planning: Case Studies and Strategies for 2000 : Proceedings of a Conference, Irvine, California, April 28-May 1, 1996, Volume 1. Transportation Research Board. 1997. ISBN 9780309059701.
  4. ^ National Space Institute (1986). "Robert Gray". Space World. p. 20.
  5. ^ a b c d e Amir Alexander, "One Man’s Quest for SETI's Most Promising Signal," The Planetary Society, January 27, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c "The Wow! signal: Alien hunter claims best clue yet to existence of E.T. came from an interstellar lighthouse". Daily Mail. February 17, 2012. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  7. ^ a b c d e Seth Shostak (October 22, 2003). "The Mysteries of the Wow Wave". Astrobiology Magazine. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Ross Andersen (February 16, 2012). "The 'Wow!' Signal: One Man's Search for SETI's Most Tantalizing Trace of Alien Life". The Atlantic. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  9. ^ a b Paul Scott (February 24, 2012). "35 Years Later, the 'Wow!' Signal Still Tantalizes". Universe Today. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  10. ^ Frederic Golden, "NASA scientists search heavens for 'E.T.'," Santa Cruz Sentinel, September 2, 1988, pp. E1, E3.
  11. ^ Yervant Terzian (1997). Carl Sagan's Universe. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521576031. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  12. ^ Michael D. Papagiannis (1985). "The search for extraterrestrial life--recent developments: proceedings of the 112th symposium of the International Astronomical Union held at Boston University, Boston, Mass., USA". International Astronomical Union. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  13. ^ a b c Amir Alexander (April 7, 2010). "The Wow! signal". Cosmos Magazine. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  14. ^ a b Alan M. MacRobert. "SETI Searches Today". Sky & Telescope Magazine. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  15. ^ Thomas R. McDonough (1987). The search for extraterrestrial intelligence: listening for life in the cosmos. John Wiley. p. 224.
  16. ^ Paul Jay (August 15, 2007). "A Signal from Above". CBC News. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  17. ^ Gray, Robert H.; Ellingsen, Simon (2002-10-20). "A Search for Periodic Emissions at the Wow Locale". The Astrophysical Journal. 578 (2): 967–971. Bibcode:2002ApJ...578..967G. doi:10.1086/342646.
  18. ^ "The Elusive WOW: Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence". Publishers Weekly. October 24, 2011. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  19. ^ Robert H. Gray, "The Fermi Paradox Is Not Fermi’s, and It Is Not a Paradox," Scientific American, January 29, 2016.
  20. ^ "Marian H. Gray," Tulsa World, October 11, 2012.