This is the only full-color video you will ever see of the Tesla/FalconHeavy spacecraft cruising in outer space, showing 2 hours of travel through a field of stars, when the now famous Roadster was nearly 1 million km from Earth.
Why the only one? The spacecraft is now too far to be captured like in this video (way too dim), and it’s going to take about 90 years before it’s near enough to us again, which means the next video will likely be recorded by someone who hasn’t been born yet.
But… how was this video made?
I spent a big part of February 8 trying to find the Roadster’s ephemeris, that is, a list indicating the coordinates of the spacecraft over time. Luckily, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, which produces ephemerides for thousands of celestial objects, had just added the roadster to their list as 2018-017A
I quickly generated the ephemeris for the Tesla and mapped them on the software application that I use to control my telescope. The ephemeris indicated that the Roadster would be up in the sky from 3 to 5:30am, just about 20 degrees from the horizon, and shining at magnitude 17.5. Not ideal, but still doable.
I didn’t wait any longer. Without getting any sleep, at 2am (already February 9) I headed to a semi-dark site not far from home and, interestingly enough, also about 20 minutes from Tesla’s HQ in Palo Alto!
I had a few mishaps, most notably that at first I couldn’t see anything in the place where the Roadster was supposed to be, but eventually I realized I had a small oversight, recalculated the coordinates and there it was!! (thanks to the wide field of my telescopes, the Roadster was still in the field of view, despite the slight change in coordinates).
I consider myself a visual astrophotographer. Astrophotography allows me to capture ancient photons, so that I can later produce my own interpretation of the data captured, blending art and science like not many other disciplines do, but I don’t usually track “small pixels in space” (aka comets, asteroids and yes, even spacecrafts) as some of my peers do. Yet, comes the day when someone decides to launch a cool red car “driven” by a dummy in an astronaut costume, I had but to go for it! Yeah, red sports cars make even tiny pixels look cool!