Worst Case Scenarios: What Could Happen to Elon Musk’s Space Roadster?

Last week an enormous rocket took off from Earth and placed something a little, how shall we say, different into our solar system: a red Tesla Roadster, with a mannequin in a space suit strapped into the driver’s seat (as the car blasted David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“).

Plenty of questions to ask here, among them: Why float a car through space when it’s not going to be driven? Why does a mannequin need a space suit? And what, exactly, is Elon Musk compensating for?

But at the end of that line of questioning, the easiest one to stop at is: What the hell’s gonna happen to it?

We’re hard up for an answer on most of those questions, but that last one has answers — or, at least, potential outcomes. Here’s what could happen to Musk’s spacecar, and anything it comes in contact with along the way.

Scenario No. 1: Radiation Rips It Apart.

The car may be drifting, but it’s not doing so peacefully, as it’s being bombarded with super high levels of stellar radiation, which will eventually destroy any organic material that make up the car, as LiveScience recently reported. Among other things, organic material (anything carbon-based) on the Roadster includes plastics, which make up parts of its windshield and various parts of its interior, along with its carbon-fiber frame.

Indiana University chemist and plastics/organic molecules expert William Carroll told LiveScience that the radiation would randomly snap the bonds within the molecules themselves, causing anything organic to splinter and flake away into the ether — and do it quickly.

“Those organics, in that environment, I wouldn’t give them a year,” Carroll added.

Scientifically, this doesn’t really matter; it’s not as though the Roadster is useful for an exploratory mission, and the mannequin in the driver’s seat won’t be any worse off floating by itself in space. The car just wouldn’t look as good after it’s warped by space — and we won’t even really get to watch that happen, except for the occasional glimpse. According to Musk, the livestream from the car has already gone dead.

Scenario No. 2: Asteroid + Car = Car Pieces.

The Roadster was initially headed for Mars’ orbit, but that’s not where it’s going now, thanks to an unexpectedly powerful boost, as SpaceX reported to NASA (and Musk tweeted). Instead, the car will be moving toward the asteroid belt — or, according to more recent calculations, somewhere near it.

As the name indicates, this area of space is…dense with rocky objects. But it’s not a foregone conclusion the car will end up between a rock and, well, another rock. As Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told Vice News: “Whenever you see an asteroid belt in movies, like ‘Star Wars,’ it looks like they’re 10 feet apart. They’re not. When you’re on an asteroid, the next-closest asteroid looks like a distant star. It’s mostly empty space.”

So the odds of the Roadster encountering an object large enough to damage it apart are slim. But they’re not zero.

In the unlikely event that a collision did occur, the car would break up into a zillion pieces, which would contribute to the growing problem of space debris. And space junk could pose a hazard to future space missions. Or the impact could just send pieces of the Roadster off on new trajectories towards Mars or other planets.

Scenario No. 3: The Car Is Pulled Into Orbit Around Mars, and Damages Our Satellites.

We—People of Earth—currently have six active satellites orbiting the Red Planet. Recently, images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter helped scientists identify eight large patches of ice exposed on the surface. This sort of information could be crucial for future human visitors that want something to drink.

Based on its current trajectory, the Roadster should make its closest approach to Mars in October 2020, McDowell tweeted. It’ll be just 4.3 million miles from the Red Planet  pretty close in space terms, but still distant enough that we don’t need to worry that the car would hurtle into the planet itself (it could be pulled in slowly, over a few hundred years, but it won’t crash quickly).

If, however, the Roadster were struck by debris, pieces of it could be propelled into the Martian atmosphere, damaging any spacecraft there.

(Yeah: just like in Gravity.)

As for how scientists using these satellites to study (or even prepare for a potential mission to) Mars would feel about that possibility, the words you’re looking for are “probably not great.” But since that debris likely wouldn’t reach Mars until far in the future, it could also pose a threat to any humans who would be orbiting the planet. And if there’s a future where people are living on Mars? Showering the planet with centuries-old debris from an unused sports car could damage the satellites they use to communicate with Earth. If you think bad drivers with fast cars are irritating now, imagine how annoyed you’d be at that.

Worst Case Scenario, No. 4: The Car Crashes On Mars, Contaminating It With Microbes.

The worst thing that could happen to Musk’s car, if it’s not felled by cosmic rays, an asteroid, an orbital pattern, or a satellite?  It actually makes it on Mars. Or some other celestial body in our solar system. And that debris would basically colonize the planet, eliminating anything that may already exist there. Yeah, it sounds like a reach. And yet:

Mars may have supported life in the past, and there’s a very small chance it hosts some, still. Any Earthly microbes that survived the cold, airless sojourn through space could multiply on Mars, killing off native life. Or it could make it impossible for future science missions to tell the difference between life that was already on Mars, and what we brought there. Same thing could happen if the car (or parts of it) made it to other places that host life in our solar system, like Europa or Enceladus.

But this catastrophic scenario is also the least likely. The Roadster’s so far from any other planet that it would take an extraordinary set of circumstances for this to happen. First, something would have to re-direct the car’s trajectory  a collision with a large object, or a gradual change it its orbit thanks to the pull of other planets and the sun (which The Atlantic reports will indeed happen over hundreds of years). This trajectory change would then have to bring the car near enough to a planet to be sucked into strongly its gravity. Finally, any Roadster remnants would have to make it through the planet’s atmosphere without being burned up entirely  hard enough to accomplish for spacecraft we’ve designed specifically to be able to do so.

But, hey, this is space, where the extraordinary seems to happen an awful lot (like the fact that we exist). So, you never know. And for what it’s worth, at the time of writing, the Roadster was roughly 36,000 miles (58,000 kilometers) from its home planet, and 148 million miles (238 million kilometers) from Mars. That means we’ve got a bit of time to monitor this space traveler, and to prepare for its potential effects (or inevitable demise) far from Earth until Musk’s car becomes an intergalactic pile of parts.

The post Worst Case Scenarios: What Could Happen to Elon Musk’s Space Roadster? appeared first on Futurism.

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HomePod hands-on: The best (and worst) of Apple’s new smart speaker [Video]

The highly anticipated $ 349 HomePod arrived on Friday afternoon, and I’ve been playing around with it for the last day or so. A few things, like the speaker’s build quality and design, are things that I can immediately appreciate upon unboxing. The one surefire conclusion that I can make after using the HomePod is that Apple has, as we know by now, prioritized sound quality over everything else. more…

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Apple patents way to fix VR headsets’ worst problem

Bulky virtual reality headsets may soon look like retro relics if Apple’s designers have their way. Details of a new patent from Apple reveal the company is investigating different ways to reduce the size of bulky augmented reality and virtual reality headsets. The patents specifically mentions a tech that its rivals aren’t using, which could […]

(via Cult of Mac – Tech and culture through an Apple lens)

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Apple’s claim that it warned us about iPhone slowdowns is corporate spin at its worst

iPhone Slowdown Apple Explanation

The US Senate asked Apple various questions about the recently discovered iPhone slowdown practice. The iPhone maker issued a response on February 2nd, which was made public on Tuesday. In it, Apple explains the whole iPhone battery mess, providing a timeline of events, existing fixes as well as other mitigations for the future.

Apple’s explanation proves that the worst thing about the iPhone slowdown is that Apple lied about having informed users of what was about to happen once iOS 10.2.1 was released last year.

The first time Apple acknowledged that it hasn’t informed its customers properly back in January 2017 was a few weeks ago. “When we did put [the software update] out, we did say what it was, but I don’t think a lot of people were paying attention,” Apple’s Tim Cook said in an interview with ABC News. “And maybe we should have been clearer, as well.”

The letter to Congress makes that sort of misinformation even clearer.

First of all, Apple released the iOS 10.2.1 update in January 2017, a month before it actually tried to tell us what the update did.

“We first delivered this power management feature to iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone SE as part of iOS 10.2.1, in January 2017,” Apple explains.

Then, in February 2017, it “told” users about the slowdown.

“Once we verified that the feature was effective in avoiding unexpected shutdowns, we updated the iOS 10.2.1 ReadMe notes in February, 2017. Specifically, the iOS 10.2.1 ReadMe notes said that this update ‘also improves power management during peak workloads to avoid unexpected shutdowns on iPhone,” Apple said.

I’m sorry, Apple, but telling users in an updated change log, a month after the update, that the update “also improves power management during peak workloads to avoid unexpected shutdowns on iPhone” will not make me realize that the phone will be slowed down in certain cases.

Don’t get me wrong, I do understand why Apple had to revert to this fix. I happen to have been an iPhone 6s user right until the iPhone X rolled out, but I never noticed the slowdowns. Nor did I experience annoying iPhone shutdowns before the iOS 10.2.1 rolled out, although it may have shut down a few times overnight from what I can recall. I did replace the battery of the iPhone 6s long before the iPhone slowdown scandal was unearthed, as I was preparing it for a new life with a family member. Finally, I’m also a non-believer in the theory that Apple intentionally slows down iPhones to sell newer models.

But telling iPhone users that you warned us about what was going to go down, is a pretty huge “alternative fact,” Apple. That has been my main complaint all along. I wish I knew in advanced that iOS is clever enough to slow down the iPhone so that it doesn’t die unexpectedly. I wish I had the option of turning the feature down, just like it’ll happen from now onward.

Republican Senator John Thune, who penned the initial letter to Apple, also acknowledged in a statement that Apple’s disclosures of the update “came up short.”

“I appreciate Apple’s response to my inquiry and the company’s ongoing discussions with the committee,” Thune said, according to Business Insider. “In those conversations, Apple has acknowledged that its initial disclosures came up short.”

“Apple has also promised the committee some follow-up information, including an answer about additional steps it may take to address customers who purchased a new battery at full price,” he added.

Apple’s full letter follows below.

Apple – BGR

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