Since launching on Feb. 6 atop a Falcon Heavy rocket, Elon Musk’s cherry-red Tesla Roadster and its “passenger” Starman have moved away from the sun.
Today, according to Where’s Roadster? website, the vehicle has reached its first peak from the sun at a distance of 1.66 astronomical units. (1 AU is the mean Earth-Sun distance, or 149.6 million km.)
According to Ben Pearson, who runs the site, the Tesla’s position should be accurate to more than a day, but it’s impossible to know for sure. The Tesla’s orbit data comes from NASA and is tracked by ground-based telescopes for the first six weeks after launch, when the Falcon Heavy’s upper stage and Tesla were still relatively close to Earth.
“There have been no updates since the end of March,” Pearson told Ars. “Still, there’s no reason to suspect it would be more than a little off target.”
After the first few months of spaceflight, only the Hubble Space Telescope was able to track the Roadster. This instrument, recently returned to service after a gyroscope problem, can see up to magnitude 30, which is a measure of an object’s brightness.
Such a magnitude is extremely faint, about 1 billion times more than an object visible to the naked eye. Seeing the Roadster at its current distance, just outside Mars’ orbit, is similar to Hubble spying on a dark, 15 km wide clump of rock in the Kuiper Belt, which is outside Neptune’s orbit.
Unfortunately, Hubble won’t be spending time looking for the Roadster. “Hubble orbits are precious and highly competitive, so it would be a waste of scientific time to spend the resources looking at them,” Ray Villard, news director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, told Ars.
The images in the gallery above show some highlights in Starman’s expected orbit, including a pass to within 0.05 AU of Mars in October 2020 and a pass relatively close to Earth in November 2020. should enable ground to observe it again.