There's Only The Tiniest Chance That Musk's Tesla Will Crash Back To Earth, But We'll Take It

By now it's old news - somewhere in space, there's a red Tesla Roadster with a spacesuit-wearing dummy in the passenger's seat. It probably doesn't drive any more, and NASA has officially listed it as a celestial object.

Image: SpaceX

But now that it's out there, the next question is, well, will it crash into anything? A team of researchers at the University of Toronto is trying to answer that question. The answer, obviously, is that we don't know.

"We estimate the probability of a collision with Earth and Venus over the next one million years to be six per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively," the authors write in the paper published today on the arXiv physics preprint server.

The car is now in an elliptical orbit that will take it further than Mars, 257.5 million km from the sun, according to The Verge.

Study author Hanno Rein told CBSNews that seeing the object's data on the JPL database got them excited. They ran a number of models with different initial conditions - it's hard to model something so many years out because of how many other gravitational factors there are. Instead, they have to do things statistically and get results as percentages. The car's next close encounter with Earth will be in 2091.

To be clear, this means that it's very, very unlikely the car will hit the Earth. But obviously a human-induced nonzero percentage of any collision is a little unsettling, even over time periods longer than it will take to nuke ourselves.

As it is a paper on the arXiv, it's worth taking this paper with a grain of salt since it hasn't been peer reviewed.

Caltech Planetary Astrophysicist Konstantin Batygin told me: "Yes, this modelling is as precise as you can get with these types of problems. You have orbital predictability for a while, but eventually, chaotic diffusion inevitably ensues. Of course, a six per cent chance that within the next million years a Tesla might fall from the sky is not what you should stay up at night worrying about. Still, it's cool calculation."

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

I mean, wouldn't it be the ultimate irony if some day in the distant future an ancient Tesla from space strikes a Tesla factory?

[arXiv]