The cherry red Tesla Roadster with its Starman companion that SpaceX launched on the first mission of the Falcon Heavy rocket back in February has now moved well beyond the orbit of Mars, according to a statement by the company.
On Friday night, SpaceX posted a picture on Twitter of the Starman and Roadster’s current spot in space that read: “Starman’s current location. Next stop, the restaurant at the end of the universe.” That restaurant, of course, would be the one that Douglas Adams immortalized in his series, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. As Space has reminded people, in another nod to Adams, Elon Musk had “Don’t Panic!” programmed into the Roadster’s entertainment system, and who could forget the 5D optical disc that also holds Isaac Asimov’s beloved Foundation trilogy on it, which is now safely stored in the car presumably for all time (or millions of years at least).
Lest we forget, the Tesla Roadster is also playing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on a nonstop loop as it travels through space, although as sound can’t be heard in space, we will all just have to imagine hearing the strains of “planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do” as the Starman flies beyond Mars.
Now that SpaceX’s Roadster has traveled past the orbit of Mars, the Starman won’t stay in this area forever. In fact, following the car’s heliocentric orbit, it will eventually loop back in the direction of the sun and an orbit-modeling study predicts that it will be just a few hundred thousand kilometers away from Earth when 2091 rolls around.
Starman’s current location. Next stop, the restaurant at the end of the universe. pic.twitter.com/Ty5m8IjJpE
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 3, 2018
After its close fly-by with Earth, SpaceX’s Roadster will either slam into the planet or hit Venus, although both of these scenarios could take tens of millions of years to occur. The study suggests odds of both scenarios happening, and has given the Starman a 6 percent chance of slamming into Earth within the next million years, while the odds are slightly lower of it hitting Venus at just 2.5 percent.
“Although we are not able to tell on which planet the car will ultimately end up, we’re comfortable saying it won’t survive in space for more than a few tens of millions of years,” Hanno Rein, the lead author of the orbit-modeling study noted, according to Space.
Once the Tesla Roadster eventually careens into Venus or Earth, assuming this is what happens, the majority of it and the Starman, if not all, will be burned up in the atmosphere. Part of the reason why it is so impossible to predict what will happen is due to the fact that the car could have quite a few gravitational encounters with our planet, and it’s difficult to say what will happen to the car after these encounters, as co-author Dan Tamayo has explained.
“Depending on the details of these encounters, the Tesla can be kicked onto a wider or smaller orbit, so it’s random. 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.”
With so much uncertainty as to where SpaceX’s Tesla Roadster and its Starman will end up, we at least have until the end of our lives to track its special voyage as it may very well be traveling through space for many millions of years before its journey finally reaches a spectacular and fiery conclusion.