Professional astronomers searching image archives from the Spacewatch program, discovered several faint traces of 2004 MN4 on images taken in March of this year. The newly-reported positions were used to revise the orbit of the asteroid. The new calculations show that the asteroid will be a spectacular sight in 2029, but will safely pass the earth.
Camarillo Observatory is one of the small private observatories that was called into action a few days before Christmas, to obtain observations of the newly-discovered asteroid in an effort to improve the knowledge of its orbit around the sun.
Although there was no reason for immediate concern, the current excitement stemmed from the fact that this was the first asteroid to rise above the level of 1 on the Torino Scale. Similar to the Richter scale used for earthquakes, this scale is a measure that scientists developed to communicate the relative risks of an asteroid impact with our planet to the public.
In fact, it had reached a level 4 for a date in 2029, but posed no possible hazard before then. There are still several dates after 2029 which are still being investigated, with several measuring 1 on the Torino Scale.
Rest assured that there is no possibility that we will lose track of this asteroid. It will be visible for several more months, during which time Camarillo Observatory and others will continue to obtain crucial measurements, before it returns to the depths of space. After that there will be at least two favorable periods, when we can confirm the behavior of the asteroid’s motion around the sun. 2004 MN4 will be favorably positioned in its orbit to be safely observed from the earth in 2013 and 2021.
At 54 times the distance of the Moon, the animation above was taken with the Helin telescope on 15 January 2005, starting at 03:50 UTC. Approximately 12.5 minutes of motion is compressed into one second.