Larger telescopes will be able to keep track of the speeding Tesla Roadster as it continues along its solar orbit, but for small and amateur telescopes, the time is fast approaching when the car will become too faint to photograph. That’s why Italian astrophysicist Gianluca Masi is holding a “Goodbye, Tesla Roadster” event on Wednesday — Valentines Day — starting at 6:15 a.m. Central Time (12:15 UT) at his Virtual Telescope Project website, where he’ll be live streaming images of the car Just click and watch.
Just as in the photo above, the car will look like a faint star as it continues moving away from Earth on to the vicinity of Mars’ orbit. As of 5 p.m. Central time today, the car was 1.15 million miles (1.85 million km) from the Earth and won’t get anywhere near the planet again until sometime after 2030. During the years ahead, it will pass closest to Mars on Oct. 7, 2020 at a distance of 4.35 million miles (7 million km), well outside of the Red Planet’s gravitational sphere of influence. It’s a lonely journey ahead for Starman, so send it hugs and kisses on Valentine’s Day.
The Roadster follows an orbit that takes it just beyond Mars. Notice that it returns to its original location, Earth’s orbit, each orbital period of approximately 1.6 years. But at least for the time being, Earth won’t be at or near that spot until sometime after 2030, so there will be no close approaches between our planet and the car.
Those living in the northern U.S. and Canada might get another special something on Valentine’s Night. It’s been a long time since a northern lights forecast has been favorable for parts of the U.S. but a recent coronal hole in the sun’s atmosphere could bring the northern states at least a minor storm (Kp=5, G1) Wednesday night through dawn. Take a look that night — no moon will mar the dark.
A final thought: the Tesla Roadster is also carrying some additional cargo, a copy of the Isaac Asimov Foundation Trilogy, one of my favorite science fiction book series. It’s tucked away within the car inside an Arch (pronounced ark), a new type of device that stores information optically in quartz and could last (and be accessible) for at least several million years. Read more about it at the Arch Mission Foundation blog. The foundation is also developing libraries that will be delivered to the moon and Mars on future space missions.