184 — The random walk of cars and their collision probabilities with planets

Rein, Tamayo & Vokrouhlický (1802.04718)

Read on 20 February 2018
#Tesla  #SpaceX  #orbits  #gravity  #gravitation  #planets  #space 

This is a rollercoaster of a title for a paper. As far as I know, there is only one car currently liable to collide at any point with a planet. But I’m no physicist.

Emily Lakdawalla, who is a wonderful voice of science for a whole variety of reasons, put into words exactly how I felt about the SpaceX / Tesla launch: There was something wrong about it.

…it struck me as a vulgar display of conspicuous consumption, like lighting a cigar with a flaming hundred-dollar bill.

Rein, Tamayo, and Vokrouhlický explain that despite its highly publicized launch and high-tech payload, the Tesla-in-Space is essentially a Near-Earth-Asteroid (NEA) now, which does more bumping into things than science.

This chaotic, Earth-crossing orbit is very difficult to predict, though it seems that it will not collide with Earth in the very near future. The next close encounter (closer than the distance to the moon) is in 2091, after which the Tesla will probably be “ejected” from Earth’s near orbit. Because the orbit is so erratic, it’s hard to be sure exactly how this encounter will affect the car trajectory, but from a few hundred simulations, it is clear that its new orbit will intersect with those of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

Of the simulations performed, it appears that in roughly one million years the probability of collision with Earth is around 6%, and with Venus is about 2.5%.

So, based on the production timeline of the new Tesla cars, it’s more likely you’ll be hit by a terrestrial Tesla than one from space.