- This week SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world.
- SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s Tesla was the payload, helmed by a spacesuit-wearing dummy.
- The car was launched toward Mars orbit, but Musk said SpaceX had “no plan” to track it on its journey.
- However, two astronomers managed to photograph the car flying through space more than 50,000 miles beyond the moon.
On Tuesday, SpaceX pulled off its first-ever launch of Falcon Heavy, which is now the most powerful operational rocket in the world.
On top of the 230-foot-tall launcher, company founder Elon Musk placed his red Tesla Roadster with a spacesuit-clad dummy named “Starman” in the driver’s seat. Cameras in the car broadcast live video footage for about 12 hours, until the Roadster’s batteries ran out. The car is currently headed out past Mars orbit.
- Dave Mosher/Business Insider
During a press conference after launch on Tuesday, Musk was asked if SpaceX had a plan to track the Roadster and help “Tesla tracker” citizen scientists keep tabs on the electric car.
“We don’t have a plan. No plan,” Musk said. “It’s going to be out there for millions, maybe billions of years. Who knows, maybe [it will be] discovered by some future alien race thinking, ‘What the heck, what were these guys doing? Did they worship this car?'”
However, two astronomers – Gianluca Masi of The Virtual Telescope Project and Michael Schwartz of Tenagra Observatories, Ltd. – managed to track down the Tesla using orbit data provided by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Here’s an annotated photograph of the car as seen through their telescopes on Thursday:
- Gianluca Masi/Virtual Telescope Project and Michael Schwartz/Tenagra Observatories; Business Insider
The roughly two-ton Roadster was about about 290,000 miles away, or a distance roughly 50,000 miles beyond the orbit of the moon.
But Masi and Schwartz didn’t stop with still photos. On Friday, they posted what they called a “stunning” animation of the Roadster flying through space. According to Musk, the Roadster was set to rocket to a speed of roughly 25,000 miles per hour.
“We immediately spotted the Tesla Roadster, quite bright, around mag. 15.5,” Masi wrote in a blog post. “We managed to take dozen of images, and we used a group of them to show the trail of the object across the stars.”
Masi said he and Schwartz will continue to track the Roadster for as long as possible.
“The object is slowly fading: you can image it now with a 6″ or so scope,” Masi told Business Insider in an email. “In one month or so it will need a much larger scope to be imaged (16″ or larger).”