Earth is being orbited by a mysterious object that’s approximately 60 feet long and rotates once every minute. Amateur astronomer Bill Yeung, first spotted it on September 3rd and named it J002E3. There was no sign of it earlier this year. “It must have entered Earth orbit recently,” says NASA’s Paul Chodas. “But it doesn’t match any recently-launched spacecraft.”

Could it be an alien spaceship? “If it is,” says Chodas, “the aliens aren’t good pilots. J002E3 is in a chaotic orbit. It loops around Earth once every 48 days or so, coming as close to our planet as the Moon and ranging as far away as two lunar distances.? Its orbit is constantly changing because of gravity from the Sun and Moon. There?s no evidence it?s moving under its own power.

At first Yeung thought J002E3 was a small asteroid, since it?s as bright as a space rock and it’s moving about as fast. Mars and Jupiter have captured asteroid moons before and Earth could do it too. But astronomer Carl Hergenrother measured the spectrum of sunlight coming from J002E3 on September 12, he says, “The colors were consistent with?white titanium dioxide paint.” This is the same paint NASA used on Apollo moon rockets 30 years ago.

If J002E3 is an old spacecraft from Earth, where has it been all these years? “Orbiting the Sun,” says Chodas. “I’ve traced the motion of J002E3 backwards in time to find out where it’s been.” J002E3 left Earth in 1971, went around the Sun 30 or so times, and came back again. Chodas says, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Astronomers first guessed that J002E3 is from Apollo 14, which began in January 1971, except NASA has accounted for all the big pieces of the Apollo 14 spacecraft, and none are missing.

Another possibility is that J002E3 is from Apollo 12. Unlike Apollo 14, Apollo 12’s craft did not crash into the Moon. The crew jettisoned it on Nov. 15, 1969, when it was nearly out of fuel. Once the astronauts were at a safe distance, ground controllers ignited the engine in order to send it into an orbit around the sun. But something went wrong, and instead of circling the Sun, it entered an unstable orbit around the Earth and Moon, “much like the current orbit of J002E3,” says Chodas.

Eventually, the Apollo 12 craft vanished. It may have circled the Sun for 31 years until it was re-captured by Earth’s gravity in 2002. “It’s plausible,” says Chodas, “but still speculative.” His calculations indicate that J002E3 will leave Earth again in June 2003 to resume its orbit around the Sun. “Thirty years from now,” he says, “it might come back again.” By then we may have enough technology to fly up and take a close look at it.

We could build our own flying saucers, if the military would only declassify what they learned about anti-gravity from the Nazis. Nick Cook writes about how the Nazis invented saucer technology in ?The Hunt for Zero Point,? click here. Nick will be on Dreamland September 28.

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