"Don't panic!" That's the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"-inspired message that showed on the display screen of Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster when it launched into space via the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on Feb. 6. That's also the message from University of Toronto Scarborough scientists who say the electric car may eventually crash into Earth or Venus.
But it's OK. You don't have to keep an eye on the sky watching for a cherry-red Tesla to come falling down.
Astrophysics professor Hanno Rein is the lead author of a study that calculates the Roadster's possible fate over the next several million years. He says the probability of the car hitting Earth within the next million years is "very small." Feel better now?
Rein and his team ran a series of software simulations based on NASA tracking data and determined that the possibility of the car hitting Earth within a million years is just 6 percent. Venus fares even better, with just a 2.5 percent chance of welcoming the Tesla into its atmosphere.
The researchers also calculated that the Tesla's first close encounter with Earth won't be until 2091, when it should come to within a couple hundred thousand miles (a few hundred thousand kilometers) of its home planet.
"While the path of the Tesla can be accurately predicted in terms of years, after hundreds of years and many close encounters with Earth it becomes impossible to predict the object's precise orbit," the university said on Wednesday. Still, Rein says the most likely outcome for the car is a collision with Earth or Venus sometime in the next 10 million years or so.
If you're still a little worried, you can keep tabs on the Tesla's position in the solar system.
Rein and his team are submitting the paper, titled "The random walk of cars and their collision probabilities with planets," to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society journal.