Buzzed By Space Junk or ET’s?

In 2017 Earth is expected to be “buzzed” by a mysterious object being tracked by satellites and called “1991 VG” because in 1991 it did its first recorded fly-by of our planet. In December of that year the object, which is about 30 feet (10 meters) across, buzzed past Earth as it continued in its orbit around the Sun (called a heliocentric orbit in fancy Science-speak). Stargazer James Scotti at University of Arizona’s Kitt Peak observatory, using the Spacewatch telescope, spotted VG in November and continued to track it as it passed by.

Observers noted that it shone brightly but this brightness would often go through rapid fluctuations. Scientists argued that this was indicative of it not being an organic object like an asteroid. Could it be a man-made piece of space junk that has been destined to orbiting the Sun until it disintegrates? Well, let’s see just how much space junk is out there in a heliocentric orbit:

American Space Junk

  • Pioneer 4 (1959)
  • Ranger 3 (1961)
  • Mariner 2 (1962)
  • Ranger 5 (1963)
  • Mariner 3 & 4 (1964)
  • Mariner 5 (1967)
  • Pioneer 5, 6, 7, 8, & 9 (1966-1969)
  • S-IVB upper stage panels of Apollo 8 (1968)
  • S-IVB upper stage panels of Apollo 10, 11 & 12, & #10s ascent stage panel LM Snoopy (1969)
  • Mariner 6 & 7 (1969)
  • Mariner 10 & Mercury (1974, 1975)
  • Mars Observer (1992)
  • CONTOUR (2002)
  • Genesis, Spitzer Space Telescope, Kepler Telescope, STEREO-A & STEREO-B

Russian Space Junk

  • Luna 1 (1959)
  • Venera 1 (1961)
  • Mars 1 (1962)
  • Zond 2 (1964)
  • Zond 3 (1965)
  • Venera 2 (1966)
  • Mars 4, 6 & 7 (1974)
  • Venera 11 & 12 cruise stage (1978)
  • Venera 13 & 14 cruise stage (1982)
  • Vega 1 & 2 (1984-1986)
  • Phobos 1 (1988)

European Space Junk

  • Helios 1 (1975)
  • Helios 2 (1976)
  • Giotto (1986)
  • Ulysses (1990)
  • Herschel Space Observatory & Planck Observatory

Japanese Space Junk

  • Sakigake (1985-1999)
  • Suisei (1985-1991)
  • Nozomi (1998-2003)
  • MINERVA mini-lander (2005)
  • DCAM1 & DCAM2 (2010)

Chinese Space Junk

  • Chang’e2

India Space Junk

  • Mangalayaan (2013-2014)

Despite the number of man-made objects orbiting the Sun, there are some space enthusiasts who eagerly await 1991 VG’s arrival, wondering if it might be an alien space probe sent to observe our planet. Scientists don’t know exactly what it is… yet. Here are some of the details they are certain of through telescopic and satellite observations:

  • It has a strange rotation.
  • It has existed a very long time in outer space.
  • It rotates rapidly
  • It has reflective fluctuations

Here are the theories bandied about as to what it could be:

  • Alien space probe
  • Small meteorite
  • Apollo 12 rocket

However, after researching each man-made possibility, they have ruled them all out. So, we are left with the possibilities of a small meteorite or an alien-made object. It’s reflective properties has scientists leaning toward a non-organic object which then leaves only an alien-made object left on the list. However, scientists also do not rule out the possibility of a Russian-made object that the science community is simply unaware of. During the years of the Soviet space program, they were very secretive. Information about failed space missions that resulted in space junk left floating about into infinity and beyond was often suppressed. So, there is the possibility that it is a bit of old, secret Soviet space history.

In tracking the trajectory of the object’s orbit, it can be determined that 1991 was not the first fly-by of VG. It also would have passed near the Earth in March of 1975. Repeat visits are another reason scientists rule out an asteroid or meteor because typically if such an object neared Earth like 1991 VG, it would either be trapped by our planet’s gravitational pull and either burn up in the atmosphere or crash (worst case scenario) or have its own trajectory affected and changed by Earth’s gravity. This object’s trajectory remains unaffected by Earth’s pull.

Because its orbit is very similar to Earth’s path around the Sun, some scientists speculate on the alien observation probe theory. Next summer Earthlings will get another up close opportunity to peek at the object as it skims over the planet’s southern hemisphere.

Edinburgh mathematicians have calculated the very real possibility that extra-terrestrials could be successful at launching observation space probes across vast galactic distances to spy on humans. Their work, published in the Journal of Astrobiology, asserts that by taking advantage of gravitational fields surrounding stars they could achieve the necessary speeds for an observation probe to travel to Earth from the far reaches of space of which humans are completely ignorant of and incapable of exploring. In fact, humans are already using this technology in the Voyager probes zipping about the universe.

Regardless of whether it’s a big space rock, hunk of junk or extra-terrestrial peeping Tom tool, the gringa has her calendar marked for the Summer of 2017. I expect interesting things to happen.


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Appears, Hypothesized, Presume… IT’S A GUESS!

The gringa cannot believe she got sucked in by a headline about a “Super-Earth” lurking in the outer regions of space. Within the first paragraph certain language was used that caused the gringa to go, “Mm hmm.” Very soon another word was used and the gringa exclaimed, “Aha!” A very telling word was used that earned the article a prompt, “Pfffft!” And, finally, when the truth was admitted, the gringa was jumping up and down screaming, “I KNEW IT!” And then I was kind of mad I had wasted all of that time and energy.

So, did astronomers find something interesting in the outer regions of space in the general direction of the Alpha Centauri system? Yes, they did. And THAT is ALL they know for now!

This object was first observed in 2014 by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA). ALMA is a multi-national organization that manages an array of radio telescopes in the Atacama Desert in the northern part of Chile. The multi-national partnership includes: Europe, the United States, Canada, East Asia and the Republic of Chile. A second, and much clearer, sighting occurred in May of 2015.

Now, these are all the key words and phrases used that clearly indicates that any other information offered on this object, at this time, is JUST A GUESS! Sheesh! Create a leading headline and get the gringa all excited, now I am calling you OUT because of the major let down the TRUTH turned out to be:

  • “Astronomers Find Object Deemed ‘Super-Earth’ in Outer Region” (key word “deemed”)
  • “it is a dwarf planet or star” (key word “or” – they DON’T KNOW)
  • “depending on its distance” (key word “depending” – they don’t know how far away it is)
  • “a hypothesized “super-Earth.”” (key word “hypothesized” – um, they’re just guessing)
  • “reasonable to presume” (key word “presume” – STILL GUESSING!)
  • “it could be” (key word “could” – in other words, maybe/maybe not, we DON’T KNOW)
  • “isn’t possible to determine” – (key words “isn’t possible” – we DON’T KNOW)
  • “one possibility” (key word “possibility” – in other words, “hey, wanna know my opinion?”)
  • “speculation” (does the gringa really have to explain that?)
  • “a third possibility” (OMG! STILL GUESSING!)

One of the main reasons the gringa loves to write about space related science is that it is factual, therefore non-controversial, and still exciting! I love all that excitement without all the drama of arguing opinions and speculation, but, rather discussing something that is fascinating and forward thinking and factually defined.

And this article just really made me mad. It was an injustice to science. It exploited science in a dramatic fashion that made it just look ridiculous. It provoked images of crazy scientists running amok, scratching their heads and saying things like, “Well, I think…,” or, “I SAY THERE! It could be that…” It portrayed them as educated men and women who have hi-tech toys and they just poke a button at random and say, “Hm! Hey! Look at what the lens landed on? Whaddya think that is?”

The gringa felt the article really played up guesswork and insulted the many hours of painstaking effort astronomers and scientists devote themselves to. So this is for them, those brilliant men and women who are stargazers, dreamers and lovers of solving a puzzle and exploring the unknown.

What should have been said is that after this second, clearer sighting, scientists are extremely interested and intrigued by this object. In order to determine what it actually is many more observations are necessary because at this time scientists don’t have enough data to know if it’s even a planet or a star.

One of the difficulties in gathering accurate data is the distance this object is from Earth. It is on the outer edges of our solar system in the direction of the Alpha Centauri system.

Another difficulty in studying the object is the type of instrument needed for observing it. Most objects as far out as this object is are often too cool and distant to be observed by telescopes. With scientists considering the possibility that this object is either on the outer edge of our solar system or gravity bound to the Alpha Centauri system, it is simply out of our range to effectively study. The Alpha Centauri D system is four light years away.

Another puzzle scientists face is that some of the data is conflicting. When ALMA observed the submillimeter wavelengths of the object, the data suggested that it should be a red dwarf star. However, if it were a red dwarf star, it should have been clearly visible on an infrared telescope and discovered long ago.

So, astronomers and scientists will eagerly continue to gather more observations. Tracking the object’s motion and observing other wavelengths related to the object will eventually result in researchers being able to satisfy their curiosity as well as the public’s curiosity. So, until they complete their analysis, the only thing we do know is that a very interesting object is way, way, out there.



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