Anyone remember this article from FATE magazine? It’s an old one, but well worth posting!
Alien artifact or an intergalactic tour bus?
In late 1991 a strange object approached and passed within celestial spitting distance of the Earth, causing surprise, and some disquiet, among astronomers before vanishing back into the depths of space. The object was catalogued as “1991 VG,” and to this day it remains a mystery.
Spotted on November 6, 1991, by astronomer Jim Scotti, 1991 VG was initially thought to be an NEO—a Near Earth Object, probably an asteroid, of which there are many that periodically pass by too close for comfort and of which the public is blissfully unaware. At the time of discovery, 1991 VG was approximately 2,046,000 miles from Earth and heading inbound rapidly. Scotti, who was tracking with the small Spacewatch telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona, described it as a “fast-moving asteroidal object.”
Continued observation revealed that the object did not appear to be an asteroid, or at least it didn’t behave like one. For instance, it had a tendency to “wink”: to become roughly three times brighter, then dark again, every seven and one-half minutes, behavior akin to that of a rotating artificial satellite. This led to speculation that 1991 VG was perhaps an expended rocket booster drifting through interplanetary space, maybe even an old Saturn V booster from the Apollo moon-launch days of the late 1960s and early ’70s.
As the object continued to approach Earth, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in La Silla, Chile, began tracking with a 60-inch telescope. At this point, the media became aware that something was going on and press statements were issued. Meanwhile, the ESO team (astronomers Richard West, Olivier Hainaut, and Alain Smette) conducted precise measurements of the “winking” and confirmed that the phenomenon was reminiscent of the pulsations of light observed on reflective, rotating artificial satellites.
The mystery object came closest to Earth on December 5, 1991, when it passed 51,000 miles beyond the orbit of the Moon, or a distance from the Earth of about 288,300 miles, hardly any distance at all when measured on an interplanetary scale. Then it began drifting away. An estimate of the object’s size suggested a diameter of anywhere from 33 to 62 feet, small for an asteroid but about right for an expended rocket booster or possibly a large piece of spacecraft debris. Indeed, the object was small enough so that it was visible only as a pinpoint of light when viewed through the 2.9-foot-diameter Spacewatch telescope.
Four months later, on April 27, 1992, now well away from the Earth but following a path around the sun that was remarkably similar to the Earth’s orbit, 1991 VG was again detected by astronomers at Kitt Peak, this time with a larger telescope. It was to be the last reported sighting of the object before it vanished from ground-based visual range.
Three years passed. 1991 VG was all but forgotten, at least by the media. Then, in April 1995, a highly respected astronomer and author published an article that not only re-opened the debate about 1991 VG, but took the discussion to a whole new level ….