It has been over a week since SpaceX's Falcon Heavy was launched. And, now an astrophotographer in California has spotted "Starman", the lone passenger dummy seated on Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster heading out towards the asteroid belt.
The images and video was captured by astrophotographer Rogelio Bernal Andreo, reports Space.com. The launch took place on 6 February and was originally meant to take the payload to the Mars orbit. After the three boosters broke off in the upper stage, SpaceX is believed to have overshot the Mars orbit. Musk then Tweeted out an image that showed a trajectory that took Starman right into the asteroid belt.
A few days later, using updated data, researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics noted that the Tesla was not headed for the Asteroid Belt, rather, it was going to orbit the Sun between the Belt and Mars. It is expected to end up closer to the red planet than to the Belt.
"Once footage of the car and Starman started to arrive and people wondered if it could be observed from Earth, there was just one thing in my mind: to find the answer to that question and if yes, to try take a picture — better yet, a video — of it," Andreo wrote on his website, DeepSkyColors.com.
Using Nasa-provided data and an easy ephemeris tool to calculate the trajectory that Starman is on, the report notes that Andreo was able to ascertain exactly where the car would be in space.
Capturing the Tesla in space is no easy task, points out the report. For even an experienced professional photographer using automated and guided telescopes, it took several hours and two nights of scanning the sky to finally capture the images.
Andreo's first attempt was unsuccessful, he explained that he set up his instruments as per Nasa's coordinates. He then waited and scanned the sky for almost an entire night. By this time Starman was over 800,000 km away from Earth.
The next day, he set up his instruments and began to scan the sky again, but failed to find the Tesla. He explained that "When I created the ephemeris from the JPL's (Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory) website, I did not enter my coordinates! I went with the default, whatever that might be," he added. The default location setting is "Geocentric," or the centre of the Earth.
For celestial objects such as stars and for galaxies, different spots on the Earth do not make much of a difference in relation to how far away the object observed is to where the observer in on the Earth, notes Space.com.
For the Tesla, however, which is relatively close to the planet, the difference between centre of the Earth and California was significant enough to lead the photographer to look at an entirely different portion of the night skies. "Since the Roadster is still fairly close to us, parallax is significant, meaning, different locations on Earth will see Starman at slightly different coordinates," he explained.
For real time updates of the Tesla Roadster, enthusiasts have created a dedicated website that shows the location, and speed of the vehicle at all times. At the time of writing this story, the car was 2,468,560 km from Earth, moving away from Earth at a speed of 10,984 km/hour, that is 3.05 km/s.
Also, the Tesla Roadster has apparently exceeded its 36,000 mile warranty 498.7 times while driving around the Sun already.