The truth is out there, or so said television producer Chris Carter in the early-1990s in the opening credits of the cult hit paranormal/action series The X-Files. A declamation which may prove to be rather prophetic. In 1991, not long before the premier of season one of The X-Files in 1993, an astronomer named James Scotti, I will pause here and wait for the the Star Trek jokes to run their course, spied something in the night sky.
Not that impressive really, spotting things in the dark, cold vacuum of space basically being an astronomer’s job description. What made this particular telescope blip, known as 1991 VG because humans need to name everything, different is that it did not fit comfortably into any of the known categories of things that ought to be in space. The object was spotted from the Kitt Peak National observatory, run by the University of Arizona, while the researchers were looking for asteroids. While combing the heavens for space boulders, Scotti -again I wait for you to stop giggling – saw a small, roughly 10 meters in diameter, object booting across the sky. Whether the words “that’s no asteroid! Its a space station” were uttered is not a matter of public record.
Catching some sun
One of the main things that researches though was odd while tracking this mystery object in space, through the main-belt, aside from its smallish size, was its comparatively zippy rate of rotation. Even Earth’s own moon takes 29 days to complete a full rotation. This thing, whatever it might happen to be, had a similar rotation speed to Earth. Not only gearing up to take us on in a speed race the object – which while sounding suspiciously like a planet though it has yet to be confirmed, researchers preferring the term “asteroid-like body” – also shows a heliocentric orbit similar to that of humanity’s home planet and many other planets in the galaxy.
Mystery object in space: Close encounters
According to extensive and expensive data plotting, this exact same object buzzed the Earth in the Spring of 1975. According to the boys and girls down at the lab, it is likely to come around again for another look, later this year, passing at a pretty close range of 280,000 miles. Close enough to be slightly worrying but not quite close enough for a repeat of the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Its wrong to wish on space hardware
Or so said British folk-punk musician Billy Bragg. Though speaking in slightly different circumstances, Mr. Bragg’s point still holds, much of the initial reaction and speculation surrounding the discovery of 1991 VG being extraterrestrial in nature. Something even the austere, sober, degree-holding researchers admitted was possible but refused to concede in full without some mighty good evidence behind it. Their still slight skepticism turns out to have been wise as, while 1991 VG, could still turn out to be some sort of alien vessel or research probe, the smart money is on either an undersized, undiscovered class of asteroids or something man-made that was launched into space and got caught in the Sun’s gravitation field.