The adventures of Starman and his car in space continue, with SpaceX’s project passing Mars this week. Space X tweeted out an image of Starman’s current location that shows him passing beyond the orbit of Mars and out toward the asteroid belt.
The Falcon Heavy rocket developed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX was launched back in February to considerable public interest thanks to its unusual payload — a Tesla Roadster car with a chilled out mannequin called Starman in the driver’s seat. Musk described the cargo as “kinda silly and fun” but it achieved its aim of generating interest in the launch among the public.
For the first few days of its journey the public could watch a live-streamed broadcast of Starman as he floated serenely through space, but after February 14 he was no longer visible from Earth as he had travelled over a million miles away from our planet. But this hasn’t dulled the public’s interest in Starman’s journey, as unofficial websites like Where Is Roadster have popped up to compile data about the location of Starman and to plot his travels through the solar system.
The latest news shows that Starman is on his way to his furthest point from the center of the solar system, having entered an elliptical heliocentric orbit which will reach a maximum distance of 1.66 astronomical units or about 155 million miles from the Sun. The car should reach this point around November 8, at which point it will swing around and head back towards the Sun.
If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of Starman in the night sky over Earth then you will have to watch until November 5 2020, when Starman will come his closest to Earth again at a distance of 0.346 astronomical units or about 531 million miles, according to the Where Is Roadster model. This will be after completing a full orbit of the Sun, during which he will be at his furthest from Earth on January 16 2020 at a distance of 2.336 astronomical units or 217 million miles away.
In typical nerdy fashion, the announcement tweet from SpaceX included a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, noting that Starman’s next stop would be the restaurant at the end of the universe. Let’s hope that he remembered to bring his towel.