Asteroid samples folded into a capsule to be brought back to Earth

Scientists said that a NASA spacecraft more than 200 million miles away poured samples from an asteroid into a capsule to return to Earth, after losing some of its valuable loot.

Flight controllers triggered the decisive operation after some collected debris was spilled into space last week.

The Osiris-Rex spacecraft collected pebbles and other bits of asteroid Bennu on October 20, briefly touching the surface with its robotic arm and absorbing everything that was there. So much was collected – an estimated hundreds of grams – that the rocks got trapped in the rim of the container and opened, allowing some of the samples to escape.

All that remains will not leave Bennu until March, when the asteroid and Earth will be aligned correctly. It will be the year 2023 – seven years after the Osiris-Rex missile was launched from Cape Canaveral – before the samples arrive here.

This is the first US mission to pursue an asteroid samples. Japan has done this twice in other space rocks and expects its latest batch to arrive in December.

Rich in carbon, the Bennu orbiting the Sun is thought to contain the preserved building blocks of the Solar System. Scientists said the remains could help explain how the planets of our solar system formed billions of years ago and how life arose on Earth. And they said the samples could also help improve our odds, if a doomsday rock was on our way.

Pino – a round black rock larger than the Empire State Building in New York – could get dangerously close to the ground in the late next decade. The odds of a hit are 1 in 2,700. The good news is that as you mobilize a punch, it won’t wipe out the home planet.

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The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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