Friday, August 28, 2009

Petrified wood from the moon

Did Apollo 11 bring petrified wood from the moon? A treasured piece at the Dutch national museum - a supposed moon rock from the first manned lunar landing - is nothing more than petrified wood, curators say.

It was given to former Prime Minister Willem Drees during a goodwill tour by the three Apollo-11 astronauts shortly after their moon mission in 1969. The US agency gave moon rocks to more than 100 countries following lunar missions in the 1970s.

The Rijksmuseum, which is perhaps better known for paintings by artists such as Rembrandt, says it will keep the piece as a curiosity. "It's a good story, with some questions that are still unanswered," Xandra van Gelder, who oversaw the investigation that proved the piece was a fake, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

A jagged fist-size stone with reddish tints, it was mounted and placed above a plaque that said: "With the compliments of the Ambassador of the United States of America . . . to commemorate the visit to The Netherlands of the Apollo-11 astronauts." The plaque does not specify that the rock came from the moon's surface.

It was on show in 2006, and a space expert told the museum it was unlikely NASA would have given away any moon rocks three months after Apollo's return.

But frankly, does it look like lunar basalt? Researchers from Amsterdam's Free University said they could see at a glance that the rock was probably not from the moon. They followed the initial appraisal up with extensive testing.

"It's a nondescript, pretty-much-worthless stone," geologist Frank Beunk concluded in an article published by the museum.

US officials said they had no explanation for the Dutch discovery.

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