1991 VG: The day astronomers really believed they had discovered an “extraterrestrial probe”

With the discovery of thousands of exoplanets in recent years, those in search of extraterrestrial life have found new ways to expand their field of research. Earlier this year, a Harvard professor named Avi Loeb hit the headlines when he announced that 1I / 2017 U1, a space object also known as the Oumuamua, is evidence that there are extraterrestrials from civilizations. A statement that does not seem to be unanimous within the scientific community. In any case, this is not the first time that such a hypothesis has been discussed.

An amazing find

In 1991, Jim Scotti, chief researcher at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Lab, worked on the second observation campaign of the Spacewatch project. This was a project to study and analyze small objects floating in the solar system.

On the night of November 6th of the same year, Scotti saw something 10 to 20 meters in diameter move across the sky and appear to be close to the earth. The following night it disappeared, but the physicist discovered another object in the same place that behaved the same way. The next day none of them showed up.

A circular trajectory

Confused, Scotti decided to keep watching the sky. A few days later he finally managed to recognize one of the objects again, which enabled him to study it. His research found that he was dealing with an object forming a circular path in the sky.

1991 VG (green lines) in the sky in November 1991. Despite all the explanations at the time, some astronomers thought it could be an extraterrestrial probe. Photo credit: by OlivierHainaut – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Better still, the researcher discovered that it had an orbit almost similar to that of Earth. Named the VG in 1991, the object was initially viewed as debris from spacecraft. However, by analyzing its orbit, the researcher determined that its last passage near Earth was in 1974, which ruled out any connection with the first Apollo missions.

A small boulder

An astronomer named Duncan Steel then stated that it could be an extraterrestrial probe and pointed out that in the absence of an explanation it was a “candidate to be investigated”. Indeed, in the 1980s, Robert Freitas and Frank Valdes had argued that a spaceship could hide in asteroid clusters near Earth and in the main belt.

Finally, in May 2017, when VG passed near our planet again in 1991, it was proven that it was indeed a simple boulder moving in space, that is, an NEO object. And who knows, that can also be the case with Oumuamua …