NASA’s IMAGE satellite was tasked with photographing Earth’s magnetosphere. During its mission it took observations the space agency used to build this September 2005 shot of an aurora over the southern hemisphere, created when electrically charged material from the sun blew toward Earth. NASA would lose contact with IMAGE three months later. NASA Goddard

An amateur astronomer says he found a satellite NASA lost 12 years ago while searching for another orbiter, the classified U.S. government satellite Zuma that was reported to have failed to reach space but has inspired conspiracy theories about its mission and existence.

NASA lost contact with the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration, or the IMAGE satellite for short, in December 2005. It had been launched about five years earlier with the mission of studying Earth’s magnetosphere and how it interacts with the solar wind, the stream of charged particles that the sun spits out and blows toward the planets. It took photos of the magnetosphere as well as other elements in the immediate space around Earth.

The original two-year mission was completed and extended, but a few years later the satellite went dark: “IMAGE’s telemetry signals were not received during a routine pass” and “has not responded to commands,” NASA explained at the time. A review indicated a power failure was the problem.

But it may come back. The amateur radio astronomer Scott Tilley reported on his blog that he found a signal from IMAGE this month.

“As the day progressed the Doppler data made it crystal clear this was the lost IMAGE mission,” Tilley wrote.

He offered an explanation for how IMAGE still could be transmitting, saying its power system may have rebooted after detecting that its solar panels had entered Earth’s shadow, as it would have during certain times during orbit: “Periodically the spacecraft will enter an eclipse and NASA surmised that this may trigger it to restart and apply power back to the communications system,” Tilley wrote. “That appears to have happened.”

Tilley’s blog also reported that the spacecraft’s spin has slowed down a little since it was lost, from a rotation once every 120 seconds to a rotation every 175 seconds.

The post has comments from other amateur astronomers seeming to confirm the signal’s existence and from scientists who worked on the IMAGE mission expressing excitement about the prospect of the satellite’s return to NASA’s fleet.

NASA is reportedly looking into the matter.

“We’re still not sure it really is IMAGE, but we are working to identify people knowledgeable about the mission after all this time and working on getting all the appropriate scripts and software in-place just in case it is IMAGE,” NASA scientist told AmericaSpace. “We don’t know all the answers yet, but looking forward to finding out.”