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Bonjour Bennu! Precious asteroid sample hurtles earthward

Asteroid sample on its way to Earth after nearly two-year mission
Asteroid sample on its way to Earth after years-long mission 03:08

SAN FRANCISCO -- An asteroid is screaming toward impact with earth Sunday morning in the Utah desert.

You'll be relieved to know it's only about a half pound of actual asteroid and is encased inside a canister.

The source is Bennu, a carbonaceous asteroid which has a 1 in 1,750 chance of impacting earth between the years 2178 and 2290. So, no matter how good your health care is, you will not be around to witness that near-miss.

The space probe Osiris-REx scored a direct hit on this jumble of rocks and boulders on Oct. 20, 2020 when it extended a sample canister and scooped up a half-pound of the surface material. However, because Bennu's gravity is so weak, that action sent a curtain of rock and debris exploding off the surface, carved out a mini-crater and nearly spoiled the mission.

In May, 2021, Osiris fired thrusters which successfully sent the probe out of the asteroid's orbit and back on a path toward the Utah test and training range, where the canister (but not the craft) is due to land around 7:42 a.m. PDT Sunday.

NASA will carry the re-entry and landing live and, if all goes well, the granular fragments will be airlifted to the Johnson Space Center and, from there, distributed to research centers around the world.

First, though, a complicated series of events must all play out successfully early Sunday morning.

The canister must be properly ejected, then survive re-entry temperatures in excess of 5,000°F and deployment of drogue parachutes to slow it down over a thirteen-minute period where, scorched, it should land and be easily detected by a team of landing personnel who have been training for the retrieval.

Stay tuned to CBS Bay Area to find out how it goes.

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