In Brief
Thanks to the most recent Falcon Heavy launch, there's now a Tesla Roadster zooming through our solar system. In the worst case, what damage could this unusual celestial body pose to the objects around it?

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. 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 — but 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.