Since the Falcon Heavy delivered its unusual payload Tuesday, we’ve been wondering where Elon Musk’s Falcon and “Starman” have been going.
Turns out, we were all wrong.
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Musk’s Tesla was originally supposed to be sent into a kind of heliocentric orbit called a Trans-Mars injection, but the rocket carrying the payload overshot it. In a map included in a tweet, Musk announced that the Tesla would instead travel to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, coming relatively close to dwarf planet Ceres.
“Third burn successful,” Musk writes. “Exceeded Mars orbit and kept going to the Asteroid Belt.”
Sorry, but he was also wrong.
The Verge reports that astronomers noticed something amiss in the trajectory Musk tweeted, which caused SpaceX to send NASA a new orbit. The updated version on NASA JPL’s website shows Starman won’t actually make it to the asteroid belt as Musk claimed — it’ll only make it about 160 million miles away from our sun.
Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell elaborated on the Tesla’s trajectory in a series of tweets. By his calculations, the closest it’ll get to Earth in the near future is in March 2021, when it will be at a distance of 45 million kilometers (about 28 million miles). For context, that’s suuuuuuuuuuper far.
“Summary: Starman will be lonely for a long time to come,” McDowell concludes.
It’s ironic that the internet’s favorite part of the Falcon Heavy launch doesn’t seem to be the rocket itself but the Starman, cruising off into the cold vacuum of space. Even though he’s perfect fodder for memes, sadly, he won’t get to enjoy his newfound fame, as he’s too busy traveling through the void.
Regardless of where he’s going, we wish him lots of luck from Earth.