Pupils sample lunar rocks

Wigan pupils touched the moon this week - samples of moon rock and lunar dust landed at Golborne High School for a five-day visit after teachers struck a deal with the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Meteorites of different kinds also form part of the display.

Students have been able to handle and study them and see the obvious differences in the materials they are made from.

The lunar samples were collected during the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) manned space missions to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

During these missions the Apollo astronauts brought back to earth 382 kilograms of lunar material.

Most of this material is used by scientists to study the moon but NASA decided to use a small proportion of the rock and soil to develop lunar science education packs.

Tracy Howson, from Golborne High, said: "We applied for the material over a year ago and had to have a security visit from the London-based team to prove we could store the items safely. They are uninsurable and irreplaceable.

"There are samples of moon rock and moon dust brought back by the Apollo missions as well as meteorite samples.

"The rocks have been used by all year seven students who are studying a module called 'The Solar System and Beyond'.

"It's great for students of all abilities to actually handle the samples the astronauts brought back. Many couldn't believe these were the actual rocks brought back by astronauts."

Prof Keith Mason, the Science and Technology Facilities Council chief executive, said: "It's incredible to think that when you hold a meteorite you are handling something that may have travelled millions of miles to fall on the earth.

"Meteorites can tell us a great deal about the places they originate from.

"It's amazing that, almost 40 years after the lunar samples were collected, scientists are still not sure how the moon formed.

"All this year, UK scientists will be studying the moon to see what it is made of as part of Smart-1, Europe's first robotic mission to the Moon."

The council offers a free short-term loan system of the lunar samples to educational and scientific organisations within the UK.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council's meteorite collection includes samples from the moon, the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, and from Mars itself.

Mars has fascinated people for thousands of years and in June 2003 the European Space Agency launched Mars Express, a mission to study the planet in detail.

Mars Express arrived at its destination at the end of 2003 and is now sending back information, including evidence of methane that might point to the existence of life.


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