Tuesday, November 08, 2011


Moon rock and meteorite

The recent reports in the news media about the American grandmother Joann Davis getting into trouble with NASA over trying to sell a speck of moon rock, which had been given to her husband by astronaut Neil Armstrong, reminded me of an incident which occurred some time in the early 1970s, when Alan Sharp had the honour of being Science Editor of Merseyside UFO Bulletin which eventually became Magonia. Sharp was keen on astronomy and geology, and was president of Liverpool Astronomical Society from 1967 to 1970. He was engaged on some science project concerning the structure and composition of the moon and had been given (or lent) a few tiny bits of moon rock (I don't know the technical details).

One evening, he called to see me at the house where I lived at the time with my parents and my brother, and proudly announced that he had a piece of moon rock to show us. He produced a small tobacco tin stuffed with cotton wool. In the middle of this was a tiny grain of moon rock, which we gazed at respectfully as we passed it around. Finally it was handed to my father. "I can't see anything", he said.

Panic! Where was it? Frantic searching ensued, but of course it was not found as, after all, it looked no different from any other piece of grit unless subjected to expert examination under a microscope. Nevertheless, Sharp called round the next day and asked my mother for the vacuum cleaner, which he applied to our entire living room, including our cat, and desperately sifted through the contents of the dust bag, with negative results, of course.

He was greatly distressed by this incident, even though no NASA officials or American cops tried to arrest him. When we told others about this, though, it resulted in a great deal of what Americans call knee slapping and falling about.

There was another episode that I recall involving Alan Sharp and (alleged) extraterrestrial material. At about the time of the moon rock incident, or perhaps a little later (it was a long time ago, and I can't remember the details, as I'm getting on a bit) Sharp was appointed to the post of mathematics master at St Anselm's College, Birkenhead, a local grammar school which I had attended in the 1950s. I told Sharp that there used to be what was said to be a meteorite in the centre of the quadrangle. It certainly looked like a meteorite, when compared with photographs in astronomy books and meteorites in museums, and I would estimate its size as about 25 cm (10 inches) long. No information about its provenance was available, just rumours that it had been found somewhere locally or had been dug up when the school's foundations had been laid. It disappeared during the building of the school hall and was never heard of again.

Alan Sharp eagerly questioned the physics master who had been there when I was a pupil, and was still teaching there, but he denied all knowledge of it, as did everyone else he questioned. This was, of course, a mystery in itself. If anyone out there knows anything about this mysterious object, perhaps they will let me know.

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