Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy defied expectations and lifted off on February 6 with his personal Tesla Roadster in tow. The luxury electric car once owned by Musk himself was launched into space, ‘piloted’ by a mannequin dressed in a space suit named Starman. While the spectacle made for amazing photos, scientists at The University of Toronto have discovered that the Roadster could be on a collision course with Earth or Venus, Newsweek reports.
But there’s no need to fear for the Roadster’s safety just yet. Scientists think that there’s a chance that Starman could crash into Earth within the next million years. And the likelihood of it happening is still small, says study author Hanno Rein, a physicist at the University of Toronto at Scarborough.
As Newsweek notes, Space X’s original intention was for the Roadster to be unleashed into Mars’ orbit but the launch plunged it deeper into space than they first planned. As a result, the car is expected to repeatedly “drive” an elliptical course past Mars until it returns to Earth.
The team behind the research says that each time the car passes Earth, it will be affected by gravity. In their words, the Roadster will receive a “gravitational kick.”
“Over time the orbit will undergo what’s called a random walk, similar to the fluctuations we see in the stock market, that will allow it to wander the inner solar system.” said co-author of the study, Dan Tamayo, a U of T postdoctoral fellow.
The scientists at The University of Toronto used simulations to predict the Roadster flight path as it would take hundreds of years to make this type of prediction based on the car’s actual position.
Within the first million years, scientists believe that the electric vehicle has a 6 percent chance of crashing into Earth and a 2.5 percent chance of making an impact with Venus. But it’s more likely that the Roadster will collide with either planet in the next 10 million years.
If Elon Musk’s cherry red roadster returns to Earth, it probably won’t make it to our planetary surface since it will probably disintegrate as it enters the atmosphere.
According to the website Where Is Roadster, Elon Musk’s space vehicle is currently traveling away from Earth at a speed of 6,758 miles/hour (10,876 km/hour, 3.02 km/s). It is headed towards Mars at a speed of 43,170 miles/hour (69,475 km/hour, 19.30 km/s). The site was created by Ben Pearson, founder of Old Ham Media, an electrical engineer who has worked on the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.