Just a lot of moonshine



2015-06-26 11:37:44

Just a lot of moonshine

How checking their moon rock's origins brought a Dutch museum down to Earth

It held its own in a museum which shows Rembrandts, but a moon rock in the Netherlands' Rijksmuseum has turned out to be all rock and no moon.

The piece was supposed to have come from the very first moon landings: Apollo 11. It was given as a gift from US ambassador J William Middendorf to the Netherlands' Prime Minister William Drees in 1969 as part of a grand tour for politicians and astronauts following the mission.

This story might immediately sound alarm bells. Aldrin and Armstrong took samples from the moon, but not by the sack-full. As everything flown on Apollo 11 is highly coveted, receiving a lump of moon rock from the mission as a present is a little like finding a Picasso in a pound shop.

The museum received the moon rock in 1988 when Drees died. It was only displayed intermittently, but at one of the exhibitions in 2006, a space expert told the museum it was unlikely that NASA would have been allowing moon rocks to be passed around the world.

The museum had checked with NASA at the time as to the credibility of the story and was told that many moon rocks had been passed to other countries. However, this was mostly due to the follow up moon missions in the 1970s.

Perhaps because the rock was from the Prime Minister's collection, the museum did not probe further. When researchers from Amsterdam Free University saw the rock for the first time, they immediately doubted that it could have come from the moon.

In fact it is just petrified wood - although that really would be valuable if it had actually been found on the moon.

J. William Middendorf, who lives in Rhode Island, said that the rock had been passed to him from the US State department, but he couldn't remember the details. The museum intends to hold onto it as a curiousity.

It just goes to show that whilst all that glitters is not gold, all that looks a dull greyish-brown isn't moon rock. Collectors should always be careful to check provenance and use the most reliable sources.

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