Elon Musk's SpaceX company launched a Tesla Roadster into orbit around the Sun on Tuesday afternoon, so now there's a spacesuit-clad mannequin driver named "Starman" hurtling in the direction of Mars.
The original goal of the Falcon Heavy’s test flight was to send Starman into an elliptical orbit around the sun, between Earth and Mars. After the successful launch, Musk gave an update on Starman's flight path. He explained that the Tesla had "exceeded Mars' orbit and kept going to the asteroid belt."
Several experts, including Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics astronomer Jonathan McDowell, immediately called Musk's math into question. According to their calculations, Starman won’t make it nearly that far. Its farthest distance from the sun will be approximately 158 million miles, which it will reach on November 19.
Wednesday night, SpaceX shared revised orbital data that confirmed Musk's original chart was incorrect. McDowell explained on Twitter that Starman will likely miss the asteroid belt, Mars, and Earth for the forseeable future. As he puts it, "Starman will be lonely for a long time to come."
There is also a strong possibility that the Tesla Roadster's orbit will change over time, due to the strong gravitational pull of Jupiter. Andy Rivkin, a planetary astronomer at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, told The Atlantic that if Starman successfully avoids hitting any planets, it'll end its flight path in millions of years by hitting the sun.
"I’d expect its orbit to be changed by the gravity of Jupiter and other forces—its orbit will be stretched out and it will start crossing not just Mars’s orbit twice every 18.8 months but Earth’s, and eventually Venus’s and Mercury’s," Rivkin says. "If it manages not to hit any of those planets (or the moon), it’ll eventually end its days millions of years from now hitting the sun."
SpaceX's live stream came to an end, but if you're interested in an updated look at the Tesla's travels, you can see it streaking across the sky in the DEIMOS imaging below. Stay safe out there, Starman.