Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster, along with a mannequin driver named Starman, was launched into space on the Falcon Heavy rocket. At the moment, the car is orbiting the sun in an elliptical pattern, with Mars as its furthest point and Earth its closest. Researchers wanted to know what would happen to the Roadster throughout time as it travelled through the solar system. To achieve this, they developed a series of computer algorithms and ran several programs tracking the vehicle’s progress. Using that information, they then estimated its path throughout space over the next three million years.
While the team could not determine precisely where the car may crash, but they could determine that it would not likely last for more than tens of millions of years. If the vehicle happened to crash into a planet at some point in the next million years, they found that there is a six percent chance of Earth being its final destination, and a 2.5 percent change of it crashing on Venus.
Determining an answer to this question has proven to be especially difficult given the makeup of the Tesla. Orbits of small objects, such as the car, are hard to determine so far into the future, as even minor events can throw them off orbit. For example, the Roadster may come into contact with Earth’s gravitational pull over the millions of years it spends in orbit, which could have a yet unknown impact on its travel through space.
Following the Roadster on its travels through the solar system gives researchers very valuable information about other smaller objects placed into orbit, as well as the long-term effect of space on those vehicles. This information can also provide information about how certain gravitational pulls and interreference from other objects in space can affect a launched vehicle.
The Tesla Roadster makes its closest pass by Earth, coming within only a few thousand miles of the planet, in 2091.