SpaceX Tesla Roadster spotted from Earth

Posted by Jake Parks
on Monday, February 26, 2018

As part of the February 6 launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, Elon Musk supplied a red Tesla Roadster that was released into a highly elliptical orbit between Earth and Mars. During twilight on February 9, Tony Farnham used the Lowell Observatory Discovery Channel Telescope to capture this snapshot of the orbiting vehicle. // T. Farnharn/M. Knight (UMD), D. Schleicher (Lowell)

At 3:45 p.m. EST on February 6, the spaceflight company SpaceX made history by successfully launching the most powerful privately developed rocket ever built — the Falcon Heavy. (The Saturn V, which catapulted the Apollo missions to the Moon, was the most powerful rocket of all time.) At 230 feet (70 meters) tall, the Falcon Heavy is capable of ferrying a payload of nearly 141,000 pounds (64 metric tons) into low-Earth orbit. This is roughly twice the payload that any other competing rocket is capable of launching.

Although the maiden flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket was technically a test flight, in true SpaceX fashion, the company included a special object as its dummy payload: Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster, which is occupied by the now-famous mannequin named Starman.

Currently, Starman and his Roadster are embarking on the first leg of a long cosmic road trip around the Sun, one that is estimated to last tens of millions of years and will repeatedly take Starman nearly as far from the Sun as Mars.

On February 9, with Starman and his Roadster quickly retreating from Earth, astronomer Tony Farnham from the University of Maryland saw an opportunity. As the previous night of observing wound down, and the first light of twilight approached, Farnham decided to turn the Lowell Observatory Discovery Channel Telescope to a non-scientific target, ultimately capturing the above image of Starman and his Tesla.

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