On November 6, 1991, American astronomer James Scotti discovered a mysterious object in space using the Spacewatch telescope on Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona, in the United States.
Soon, the object was designated 1991 VG.
What followed, no one could have imagined.
The object, found to be around 20 meters in diameter attracted the attention of worldwide astronomers for two main reasons: First, it was very, very close to Earth as astronomers calculated that within a few weeks of discovery, it would zip past Earth at a distance of around 450,000 kilometers.
Secondly, the object exhibited a weird heliocentric orbit, very similar to that of Earth, which was unusual.
The more observations were made, the stranger the object seemed.
A plethora of theories popped up, trying to explain the weird object.
Some astronomers were convinced that 1991VG was nothing more than a weird little asteroid, others thought more of it.
In fact, the object’s discoverer, James Scotti, first thought that the object he identified might be a spacecraft returning to the planet.
Some experts looked at the object’s light curve and concluded that whatever it was, it most likely had reflective side panels.
These observations led some astronomer to suggest that 1991 VG was actually a tumbling satellite.
Eventually, the object’s potential man-made nature swiftly transcended into one more exotic: Aliens.
The more observations we made, the stranger the object got, and the easier it was for some people to suggest it was an alien probe.
Strangely, in 1992, the object disappeared from orbit.
Despite this, it wasn’t gone forever. Astronomers calculated that the object would eventually return at some point in 2017.
And on May 30, 2017, the object was detected once again.
Astronomers were confused about whether the object was natural or man-made.
The uncertainty of the object’s origin, combined with rapid variation in the object’s brightness in images obtained during its close passage with Earth in early December 1991, led to some speculation that 1991 VG might be a spent rocket fuel tank.
Some even speculated that the object might have been a rocket body from a satellite launched in the early 1970s, or from Apollo 12 mission.
Its orbit was strange.
And it is this strange orbit that helped experts classify it as a natural object, rather than a man-made (artificial) one.
As of 2018, with a highly accurate orbit, it is highly unlikely that 1991 VG is artificial, as it did not approach anywhere near Earth at any point since 1900, experts say.
A paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society sheds more light on the origin and nature of the object.
The study, authored by astronomers Carlos and Raul de la Fuente Marcos of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain, suggests the object is nothing more than a natural space rock.
The experts indicate that 1991 VG “was briefly captured by Earth’s gravity as a mini-moon during its previous fly-by in 1991-1992.”
They conclude that “all evidence confirms that there is no compelling reason to believe that 1991 VG is not natural.”
But these conclusions are based on theories.
The object has not been observed in recent times.
But all of this could change with the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEAScout), a NASA-planned mission that is expected to snap high-res images of asteroids, expected to launch in 2020.
1991 VG is one of the mission’s planned targets.