Photographing Starman From a Million Miles Away

Love it or loathe it, launching a sports car into space is a hell of a spectacle, and did a great job at focusing the spotlight on the Falcon Heavy spacecraft. This led [Rogelio] to wonder – would it be possible to snap a photo of Starman from Earth?

[Rogelio] isn’t new to the astrophotography game, possessing a capable twin-telescope rig with star tracking capabilities and chilled CCDs for reducing noise in low-light conditions. Identifying the location of the Tesla Roadster was made easier thanks to NASA JPL tracking the object and providing ephemeris data.

Imaging the Roadster took some commitment – from [Rogelio]’s chosen shooting location, it would only be visible between 3AM and 5:30AM. Initial attempts were unsuccessful, but after staying up all night, giving up wasn’t an option. A return visit days later was similarly hopeless, and scuppered by cloud cover.

It was only after significant analysis that the problem became clear – when calculating the ephemeris of the object on NASA’s website, [Rogelio] had used the standard coordinates instead of the actual imaging location. This created enough error and meant they were looking at the wrong spot. Thanks to the wide field of view of the telescopes, however, after further analysis – Starman was captured, not just in still, but in video!

[Rogelio]’s work is a great example of practical astronomy, and if you’re keen to get involved, why not consider building your own star tracking rig? Video after the break.

[Thanks to arnonymous for the tip! If that’s a nickname and not just a request to be anonymous but misspelled.]

28 thoughts on “Photographing Starman From a Million Miles Away

  1. It would be fascinating to recover this vehicle in a few years and see how it has handled being in space… I’m really curious as to how the various materials it is made from will endure.

    1. Heh, getting it back to Earth orbit probably wouldn’t be too challenging for SpaceX, but getting it back on the ground would be incredibly hard. I do like the mental image of a ‘Skycrane’, like was used to drop Curiosity on Mars, dropping the roadster and it just bouncing on its shocks a little.

      1. I wonder if lithium batteries will ignite in space, being a vacuum and all, but the rapid reaction between the components of a battery would be enough to create a combustion I imagine right? In which case it would also create a small propulsion effect if it happened in space.
        Now the question is how many batteries did they leave in for that MP3 player, and how soon will there be a runoff reaction if at all? Or is the player powered by the batteries of the propulsion sled and doesn’t the car have any batteries?
        And if it has batteries and they do ignite and they do propel, will they push it into a collision orbit?

    1. But they did not once again do a recalculate on when they finally have production running at speed, after previous delays and snags. So they are optimistic they will now definitely get on track (or sled if you prefer) as they predicted earlier.

      And the production run of flamethrowers went OK :)

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