A possible Bracewell Probe discovered in 1991 will return in 2017. Let’s make it the next apocalypse to look forward to.
A Bracewell probe is a hypothetical concept for an autonomous interstellarspace probe dispatched for the express purpose of communication with one or more alien civilizations. It was proposed by Ronald N. Bracewell in a 1960 paper, as an alternative to interstellar radio communication between widely separated civilizations.
A Bracewell probe would be constructed as an autonomous robotic interstellar space probe with a high level of artificial intelligence, and all relevant information that its home civilization might wish to communicate to another culture. It would seek out technological civilizations–or alternatively monitor worlds where there is a likelihood of technological civilizations arising–and communicate over “short” distances (compared to the interstellar distances between inhabited worlds) once it discovered a civilization that meets its contact criteria. It would make its presence known, carry out a dialogue with the contacted culture, and presumably communicate the results of its encounter to its place of origin. In essence, such probes would act as an autonomous local representative of their home civilization and would act as the point of contact between the cultures.
1991 VG is a Near-Earth object discovered by American astronomer James Scotti on 6 November 1991. Due to its unusual orbit and rapid variation in brightness, there was early speculation that it could be a man-made or even extraterrestrial object.
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 artificial in origin… Some even went so far as to suggest the possibility that it might be an extraterrestrial object such as a Bracewell probe, because its orbital path did not closely match any known man-made spacecraft or rocket bodies. Dr. Duncan Steel suggested extraterrestrial origin in an article in The Observatory.
Its very Earth-like orbit and observations of rapid brightness fluctuations argued for it being an artificial body rather than an asteroid. None of the handful of man-made rocket bodies left in heliocentric orbits during the space age have purely gravitational orbits returning to the Earth at that time. In addition, the small perigee distance observed might be interpreted as an indicator of a controlled rather than a random encounter with the Earth, and thus it might be argued that 1991 VG is a candidate as an alien probe observed in the vicinity of our planet.
Now, to spin this into a fun apocalyptic scenario, let’s assume it’s not benign but a Berserker Probe:
A variant of the self-replicating starship is the Berserker. Unlike the benign probe concept, Berserkers are programmed to seek out and exterminate lifeforms and life-bearing exoplanets whenever they are encountered.
Happy Post-Apocalypse Day, Everyone!