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Meteorites land at St Helen's Church, Auckland

The Parish and community of St Helen's, Auckland recently got their hands on rare samples of moon rocks and meteorites. Over a two-week period, the community were given opportunities which were truly out of this world.

All who visited were encouraged to reach for the stars and learn more about the Universe around us during a two week-long interactive experience of astronomy.

The community, young and old, were given the unique opportunity to actually touch a piece of space rock not of this Earth as they were allowed to handle some genuine meteorites.

Nearly 500 people attended the experience including Bishop Auckland Astro Society, local school children, Scouts and Guides groups, air cadets, the Ark Youth group and of course the parish congregation.

These rare samples were provided free of charge by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which provides educational packs in a bid to inspire young people to get involved in science.

The experience certainly had the desired effect. One young person who visited the exhibit said: “I have so many questions; I just want to find out more.”

The pack provided by STFC included a 1.2 billion-year-old piece of Mars rock and a 4.3 billion-year-old nickel meteorite. It is unlikely that students will ever get the chance to hold an object older than this, as Earth itself was formed 4.6 billion years ago.

The packs have been recently updated to also include a new meteorite hunter’s kit, new teacher planning pack and exciting new web-based resources and online support videos for all age groups, primary to secondary.

The lunar samples were collected in the late 1960s and early 1970s during some of NASA’s first manned space missions to the Moon. During these missions, a staggering 382kg of material was brought back to Earth – mostly for use by scientists, but small quantities are used to develop educational packs like this one.

Samples like these can tell us a great deal about the planets, from which they originate, but there is still much to learn – and STFC hopes these packs will encourage students to become the next generation of astronomers.

STFC’s Executive Chair, Professor Mark Thomson, said: “We are thrilled to be able to offer this unique opportunity to young people. It is not often they will be able to see close-up, and actually touch, such important fragments of science history. Samples like these are vital in teaching us more about our solar system, allowing us to confront theory with fact. We hope this experience will encourage the students to take up a career in science.” STFC is the only authorised source to loan lunar samples to educational and scientific organisations in the UK.

First published on: 22nd May 2023
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