Earlier this month, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket into space, and with it, a red Tesla Roadster. The vehicle is now floating in space with a mannequin dressed as an astronaut in its front seat. But there’s a chance its peaceful orbit could be interrupted one day by colliding with a planet in our solar system. It could even come crashing back to Earth.
Researchers from Toronto and the Czech Republic have crunched the numbers and determined that Musk’s Tesla has a 6% chance of crashing into Earth over the next one million years. The first close encounter, they say in a paper published Tuesday, will occur later this century in 2091. And if the car doesn’t crash into our blue planet, they estimate that it has a 2.5% chance to instead strike Venus sometime over the same time frame.
“We did not know what to expect because the other near-Earth objects we see in space are asteroids and typically come from further out in the Solar System,” Hanno Rein, one of the authors of the paper based at the University of Toronto, told the BBC. “In this case, it’s the reverse. We know the object comes from Earth, so the question is where will it go from here.”
Rein and his co-authors’ calculations show additional close encounters with Mars as well at the sun, though actual collisions are very unlikely, they estimate. And even if a collision does occur, it won’t be for a long time, the researchers predict. “We estimate the dynamical lifetime of the Tesla to be a few tens of millions of years,” the paper reads.
For now, at least, Earthlings can peer up at the night sky and look for a bright red dot streaking across space.