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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 18 July, 2018
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There's a $5m lump of moon rock in a dump in Finglas

An astronomer tells the BBC that a piece of rock collected by the Apollo 11 astronauts is sitting in a dump in North Dublin.

A US research holds a vial with a fragment of rock from Apollo 11. Ireland's fragment of Apollo 11 rock has been missing since a fire in 1977.
A US research holds a vial with a fragment of rock from Apollo 11. Ireland's fragment of Apollo 11 rock has been missing since a fire in 1977.
Image: Jeff Roberson/AP

IF YOU SHOULD find yourself with some time to spare around Finglas some time soon, it might be worth your while wandering into the old dump across the road from Dunsink Observatory.

For there, we learn today, there lies a lump of rock from the moon – worth in the region of $5 million.

A very interesting piece published this morning in the BBC’s online news magazine covers the plight of the ‘missing moon rocks’ – pieces from the lunar surface which were harvested by the astronauts of Apollo 17.

Having ordered the end to the Apollo lunar missions (Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt were the last two men to walk on the moon), Richard Nixon decided to split up their lunar rock, and some harvested by the Apollo 11 mission of Armstrong and Aldrin, and distribute it worldwide.

A piece was sent to all 50 US states, with other pieces sent to 135 countries worldwide – mounted, as Mark Bosworth reports, on a small plaque with the flag of each one attached.

Ireland’s piece – of Apollo 11 rock – was kept in the country’s main observatory, at Dunsink just inside the M50: the one pretty much just across the road from the dump in Finglas.

That is, until Monday 3 October 1977 – when flames were seen in the observatory in the early hours. By daybreak, the Irish Astronomical Journal reports, “the Meridian Room library [the main public auditorium] and the laboratory spaces in the basement were completely destroyed”.

The cause of the fire was never identified – and nor, apparently, was the small piece of lunar leftovers which was part of the debris left behind.

As former astronomer Dr Ian Elliott told the BBC:

It was only afterwards that we realised that the bit of Apollo 11 moon rock could not be found. It was gathered up with all of the other debris and dumped in the municipal dump which was conveniently just across the road.

It is probably the only municipal dump in the world that has got a bit of moon rock.

Apparently it could be worth your while to look for – even though the comparative size of the rock, compared to the size of the dump, could make it nearly impossible to locate.

One former NASA agent who was tasked with locating each missing rock says it’s been previously offered the rock given to Honduras – a 1.142g piece – for $5 million, and it appears there’s no reason why the Irish fragment (if you can find it) shouldn’t be worth the same thing.

So, there you go: a genuine piece of extraterrestrial existence, sitting in a dump in Dublin.

(Addendum: There are, we’re told, pieces of rock from the Apollo 17 mission at the National History Museum, and some slices of moon rock are in the Geology Department at TCD, on loan from NASA. Thanks to the reader who let us know.)

Read: Mark Bosworth’s full piece for the BBC News Magazine >

More: Live in the north-east? Start looking for some meteorites >

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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