Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster won’t last long in the cold depths of space.
Well, “long” is a relative concept in space. A few million years is the blink of an eye, galactically speaking.
In case you missed it, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has successfully sent a cherry red Tesla Roadster into deep space on the back of the Falcon Heavy Rocket. Almost everything went entirely according to plan (we’ll get to the bit that did not a little later), and now Starman the crash test dummy is careening through outer space in the sexiest ride this side of the Milky Way.
Musk even gave us a lovely shot of Starman as he seems to casually drive his way out of Earth’s orbit.
Unfortunately for Starman, his ride likely won’t stay pristine forever.
If you think driving down the highway could be dangerous for your paint, the busiest freeway on the planet has got nothing on space travel. In space, there’s space junk flying at multiple times the speed of sound, tiny rocks called micrometeorites that are just waiting to slam into the hood like a bullet, and worst of all, the immeasurable power of the sun’s rays.
It’s actually not immeasurable. We’ve measured solar radiation and it is really strong. And that’s the problem - if space junk and tiny meteorites don’t get Starman and his sweet ride then solar radiation definitely will.
"All of the organics will be subjected to degradation by the various kinds of radiation that you will run into there," William Carroll, a chemist at Indiana University, told LiveScience. In this case, he means organics in the chemistry sense, which is any material that has a hydrocarbon bond, like plastic and glass.
Those two materials also happen to be what Starman is made of, so he’s in a lot of trouble.
On Earth, we’re (mostly) protected from solar radiation by the atmosphere and Earth’s magnetic field. Starman doesn’t have either of those, so anything that’s not made of metal, like the windshield, seats, dashboard, and even Starman himself will be subject to terrible degradation.
"Those organics, in that environment, I wouldn't give them a year," added Carroll.