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Researchers say Tesla in space will come near Earth this century

  • This image from video provided by SpaceX shows the company's spacesuit in Elon Musk's red Tesla sports car which was launched into space during the first test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (SpaceX via AP)

The Tesla Roadster blasted into orbit around the sun by Elon Musk’s SpaceX is going to pass close to Earth, according to a new study, and young earthlings may still be alive when it happens.

In fact, the space-going car with an astronaut-suited mannequin at the wheel may actually collide with our planet eventually, though the chances are fairly small and the time horizon far, far away, researchers found.

While the vehicle itself will likely last for tens of millions of years, it will pass close to Earth quite soon, relatively speaking, the researchers said in a report released Wednesday. By “close,” they mean at least as near as the Moon.

“The first close encounter with the Earth will occur in 2091,” said the astrophysicists from Canada and the Czech Republic.

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That’s only 73 years from now, so it’s probable that some children who watched imagery of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launching with the Tesla on Feb. 6, and of the vehicle in space afterward, will be around when the red Roadster comes back into Earth’s vicinity.

The chance the car will actually strike our planet is relatively slight — around 6 percent — over the next million years, the researchers said in the draft of their report, which has not been peer reviewed.

One of the researchers, University of Toronto astrophysicist Hanno Rein, told Science magazine that his team made its predictions by charting the Roadster’s expected orbit over the next several million years.

The scientists believe their shorter-term predictions are more accurate than those covering possible events further in the future, Rein told CBS News.

“We can’t predict with certainty what’s going to happen after just a few hundred years, because it’s a chaotic orbit and we can only draw conclusions in a statistical sense,” Rein said.

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