Space Mystery Solved
By James Donahue
When first observed
by Arizona astronomer Bill Yeung in September, 2002, the mystery object J002E3 was thought to be an asteroid that was circling
the Earth erratically. The object was pretty big, calculated to measure about 30 meters in width.
Yeung first reported
it as a passing “near Earth” object. But within days he discovered that the thing was in a 50-day orbit around
our planet. This caused a stir among fellow astronomers. A story by Roy Britt in Astronomy magazine suggested that J002E3
was a small moon or space rock captured by the Earth when it passed near our planet’s L 1 Lagrange point, a place in
space where the gravity of the Earth and Sun cancel each other out. It was described as the first known case of an object
being captured in this way by the Earth.
In our commentary
at the time, we suggested that the object may be an alien space craft parked in orbit around the Earth. All-in-all it was
an interesting object to study and think about.
While recently going
through our old story files we came upon our original report about J002E3 and decided to Google it to see if there have been
any new updates. There were. The mystery appears to have been solved.
In their research,
astronomers at University of Arizona discovered that the electromagnetic spectrum of J002E3 is consistent with white titanium
dioxide paint. This not only suggested that it was something man-made, but that it was put there by one of NASA’s Saturn
By back tracking the
object’s orbit, the Arizona team also calculated that it had been orbiting the Sun for 31 years and near Earth in 1971.
NASA kept accurate
records of all of the large parts, including the booster rockets that sent its Apollo missions off to the Moon. But one booster
on Apollo 12, identified as the S-JVB third stage, went missing. It is theorized that this large booster rocket passed the
Moon in 1969, then returned to a semi-stable orbit around the Earth.
Even more interesting
is that while astronomers were deep in their research, trying to figure out just what J002E3 really is, the object disappeared.
It left Earth’s orbit in June, 2003. Some researchers believe it will be back to resume its crazy orbit around Earth
again about 2032.