Tesla’s space roadster may just wind up destroying all life on a faraway planet.
The odds are infinitesimally small, but it’s possible for bacteria left on the Tesla Roadster launched into solar orbit last month to wind up on an alien planet and wreak havoc on their ecosystem.
Of course, it’s more likely to land on Mars that get struck by a passing asteroid and go careening off into deep space, but it could happen, and the consequences for any planet that roadster winds up on could be dire.
In case you missed it, SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk decided to catapult a brand new Tesla Roadster into orbit on the back of the Falcon Heavy rocket tested in February. The test was a resounding success, and now there’s a cherry red Roadster on its way to Mars-ish orbit. It won’t hit the red planet (probably) but it’ll float around in space for millions of years (also probably).
In an article published by Purdue University, professor of Earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences Jay Melosh described the Roadster making planetfall could be a War of the Worlds-type scenario, where the invasive bacteria wipe out all alien life.
Even if it were to hit Mars, a planet that so far likely has no life or at best life that’s long since died off, the results would be chaotic for researchers.
“If there is an indigenous Mars biota, it’s at risk of being contaminated by terrestrial life,” he said. “Would Earth’s organisms be better adapted, take over Mars and contaminate it so we don’t know what indigenous Mars was like, or would they be not as well adapted as the Martian organisms? We don’t know.”
Normally when anything goes into space NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection sterilizes the craft as a precaution, but since Tesla’s roadster wasn’t supposed to make planetfall NASA skipped it.
But it’s possible that Tesla could serve a noble purpose rather than an interplanetary harbinger of doom. In the far more likely scenario of all life on our planet being extinguished, the Tesla could one day fall back to Earth and reseed her with life.
“The Tesla would serve the same role very nicely,” Melosh said in an interview with Jalopnik. “Of course, it took about 3 billion years to go from microbes to multicellular life on Earth, then another half billion to come to intelligent life, so [any life-extinguishing event] would certainly be a setback from our point of view.”