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Tesla Roadster Elon Musk Launched Into Space Has 6 Percent Chance of Hitting Earth In the Next Million Years ( 150

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk grabbed the world's attention last week after launching his Tesla Roadster into space. But his publicity stunt has a half-life way beyond even what he could imagine -- the Roadster should continue to orbit through the solar system, perhaps slightly battered by micrometeorites, for a few tens of millions of years. Now, a group of researchers specializing in orbital dynamics has analyzed the car's orbit for the next few million years. And although it's impossible to map it out precisely, there is a small chance that one day it could return and crash into Earth. But don't panic: That chance is just 6% over a million years, and it would likely burn up as it entered the atmosphere.

Hanno Rein of the University of Toronto in Canada and his colleagues regularly model the motions of planets and exoplanets. "We have all the software ready, and when we saw the launch last week we thought, 'Let's see what happens.' So we ran the [Tesla's] orbit forward for several million years," he says. The Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX propelled the car out toward Mars, but the sun's gravity will bring it swinging in again some months from now in an elliptical orbit, so it will repeatedly cross the orbits of Mars, Earth, and Venus until it sustains a fatal accident. The Roadster's first close encounter with Earth will be in 2091 -- the first of many in the millennia to come.

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Tesla Roadster Elon Musk Launched Into Space Has 6 Percent Chance of Hitting Earth In the Next Million Years

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  • I'll chance it!
    • by jwhyche ( 6192 )

      I agree. I will take my chances and if in the next million years a car falls on me. Hey Free Car!

    • As someone on the internet recently said, "Thanks to Elon Musk there is now a non-zero chance of getting hit by a car in space."

      Having been someone on the internet who has said this, and not remembering the source, I'll take credit for this insightfully stupid comment.

  • I hope he has collision

  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @06:20PM (#56125127) Homepage Journal

    before 2091, as being space junk and a hazard to interplanetary spacecraft.

    That's if Elon's dream of cheap spaceflight and interplanetary travels becomes reality.

    • You know that interplanetary space is actually pretty big, right? Is there any reason you think that this elliptical orbit will ever be a major space lane?

    • by tsqr ( 808554 )

      before 2091, as being space junk and a hazard to interplanetary spacecraft.

      That's if Elon's dream of cheap spaceflight and interplanetary travels becomes reality.

      2091 is 73 years away. 73 years ago we were just wrapping up World War II and competing with the USSR in grabbing up some German scientists to seed the US space program.

      Good thing the car will burn up on re-entry, though. A lot of commenters seem to think that "6% over a million years" means "6% AFTER a million years", when it really means "there's a 1 in 16 chance of this thing crossing paths with the Earth sometime in the next million years." All we know with reasonable certainty is that it won't happen i

      • [...] is an interesting read, if you don't mind a PDF.

        Whoa, you're kidding, right?

        What in god's name other kind of format would anyone want for reading a serious scientific paper???

        PDF is, seriously, the only way to go for something like this. If you do mind a PDF, there's something wrong with you in the head.

        • by edjs ( 1043612 )

          What in god's name other kind of format would anyone want for reading a serious scientific paper???

          Screen caps of a series of tweets posted to Facebook.

      • I kinda like the idea of the car coming around every ~70 years to run over a bunch of orbiting satellites though. I also like the idea of it being a target to capture with prototypes for orbital mining companies.

  • I'm kind of surprised Musk didn't grandstand a bit and offer a large prize for reclaiming the Tesla intact, like $100 million or something?

    It would obviously cost more than that with today's tech to actually pull it off, but it would be kind of amusing if in 20 years or something someone was actually able to cobble together a robotic mission to grab it and bring it back AND turn a profit on the whole thing.

    • Two things I can think of: One, logistics of running a prize thing like that would be somewhat hard. Often for super rare chances (we'll give you 10% off for every inch of snow that falls on New Year's day) the sponsor will take out prize insurance, to mitigate having to pay out a pile of cash. Still, making sure that you have the longevity in the contest can be hard, especially given the boom and bust of so many companies on the cutting edge these days. Two, I bet if you did it anyway and brought it back t

  • After that I'll be gone and won't care.
  • Maybe by then there'll be enough charge stations to use electric cars effectively.

  • ...whether there is, in fact, a dead hooker in the trunk.

    • ...whether there is, in fact, a dead hooker in the trunk.

      He doesn't have to kill them when he owns the brothel

      • by Falos ( 2905315 )

        No, but his nanna would give him an earful for having wasted a perfectly good pimpable employee.

        The idea came from the same place - young Musky wished he could send his broccoli into the sun without her noticing.

  • I was not a huge fan of Star Trek: Voyager - but, in my mind, one of the funnier scenes occurred when they ran across an old pickup in space.

  • Orbits of solar system objects aren't predictable to anywhere near the accuracy required to make that statement meaningfully. Especially not relatively light-weight and complex-shaped things like cars. []

    To be more exact, you can run a zillion simulations to come up with a probability, but all of the hit/miss scenarios are meaningless if they're too far in the future.
    • Well, that's exactly what they did: run a zillion simulations (with slightly different initial condidtions) to determine the probability of a collision in the future.

  • and it would likely burn up as it entered the atmosphere.

    I'm no expert, but since asteroid usually need to be over 25 meter to reach ground (Look at Asteroid Fast Facts NASA on google), could be remove the "likely" out of the sentence?

    • I'm sure that super-duper-safe battery compartment has enough shielding to survive atmospheric entry. After all, it would be bad PR for Tesla if a little thing like aerodynamic forces in the hypersonic regime could puncture the battery and start a fire.
  • Then the UK will have it's first decent roadster.
    • Then the UK will have it's first decent roadster.

      Wait a minute. Jaguar and Aston Martin have made some terrific roadsters. I had a 1960s MGB roadster in the '80s that was great (though useless in Chicago winters). Triumph roadsters were some of the coolest cars ever made. If anything, the UK has had too many decent roadsters. []

  • Mariner 4 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @06:58PM (#56125439)
    If you are worried about this car, why aren't you worried about Mariner 4? Or any other probe or rocket body that was sent on the same trajectory. They all may impact Earth some day.
  • by david_thornley ( 598059 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @07:13PM (#56125541)

    TFA says the roadster will cross the orbits of Mars, Earth, and Venus. The last burn was in Earth orbit, so obviously it'll return there. The burn gave it an apohelion well beyond Mars orbit, so obviously it'll cross it (assuming it's in the ecliptic). Every diagram I've seen has the Roadster's orbit roughly tangent to Earth orbit, as would happen if the burn increased its orbital velocity.

    Without major changes to its orbit, the Roadster will stay at Earth orbit or further from the Sun. If it were to make a course correction, it could establish an even more elliptical orbit and cross Venus orbit, but the delta-vee of a Tesla Roadster in a frictionless vacuum is very, very low.

    • Oops - said TFA where I meant TFS. Sorry about that.

    • The last burn was in Earth orbit, so obviously it'll return there.

      In my experience its not obvious to most people, even on slashdot, and is evidenced whenever a discussion of planetary capture of moons comes up. The consequences of conservation of energy just doesnt factor into their thinking.

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      The aphelion of its orbit has been reported variously as 0.98 and 0.99 AU, so I'm pretty sure it will never cross the orbit of Venus, at least not without the right kind of gravitational kick to really mess up its orbit.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      TFA [] goes into this in some detail. The car is expected to make a close encounter with Earth in 2091 that will sling it into a different orbit. Exactly *what* orbit is very difficult to predict: a difference in the velocity of the car today of 1 cm/s (well within measurement error) would make a massive difference to an encounter 73 years in the future.

      Once it goes through that encounter, over the next few hundreds or hundreds of thousands of years, it will undergo a series of close encounters with various

  • Call the lawyers!!!

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Wednesday February 14, 2018 @08:26PM (#56125893) Homepage

    I am 100% confident that the car will never hit the Earth, because I fully expect that within the next couple hundred years it will be retrieved and put on display in a museum somewhere. Maybe the Luna City museum or the Ceres Museum; some Earth museum is also possible.

    Right now, retrieving it is theoretically possible but such a huge and expensive undertaking that it's totally unreasonable. But if we build out our infrastructure, we will have spacecraft flitting between Earth, Mars, and the asteroids and sending a tow truck to grab the Roadster will be no big deal.

    • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

      Exactly. Odds are it will even be Elon (SpaceX) that picks it up, and my guess it will be within our/his lifetime, and that the car will be auctioned for millions.

      • The question will be, then: will it still be drivable? It will probably need new tyres and I don't think the battery will like a multi-decade deep discharge, but apart from that? Will be interesting, for sure.

        • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

          > will it still be drivable?

          I seriously doubt it. I'm sure just being in a vacuum will immediately kill the tyres and multiple other components. Micrometorites and radiation will probably damage the snot out of it too. No doubt Tesla would find a way to pretend it lasted just fine though or at least make it driveable again. I can't imagine them missing out on that giant marketing opportunity.

    • I thought he might consider it to be some eternal monument to himself. Being out in space, it could be orbiting there for a very long time, maybe a billion years or so. Somewhat like the Moon landing sites which are historical monuments. Maybe future travellers will be able to visit them, but the whole area will be cordened off and they will have to look down from an observation deck, so everything can be preserved exactly as it was when Apollo astronauts left, footprints and all.

    • Unless it returns and is worshiped by our primitive ancestors...


      Well played Musk, well played. Did anyone check the glove compartment for any commandments?

      Et obfirmatis sera reserans Model S sit convenient. Etsi autem verum est clavem ad actio- nem, non opus est ea uti.

  • We interrupt our regular programming to bring you this important breaking news. We have just learned that an unknown spacecraft is approaching Earth, origins and intentions unknown. Radar and satellite imaging reveal it to be massive in size. No direct contact has been possible so far. However, an emissary from the spaceship has teleported to the Missouri headquarters of Enterprise Rent-A-Car. This non-corporeal entity has occupied the body of an executive secretary who now speaks on behalf of the enig

  • it's the asteroid that it knocks out of the asteroid belt into a collision course with Earth that's the problem.

  • Current civilisation crumbles and by the time the roadster crashes down to earth, civilisation has rebuilt itself to the point of 1940s technology.

    The car comes crashing down in a place coincidentally named Roswell, and top scientists harvest this strange extraterrestrial technology for the wonders of ICs, microcontrollers & Li-ion batteries.

    Obviously the government don't want to cause panic that some alien craft crashed from space, so they subtly release technology based on this 'Tesla' civilisatio
  • long before it even gets anywhere remotely close to Mars, let alone coming back to Earth.

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker