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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 August, 2004, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Public invited to hunt meteorites
meteorite
There are thousands of unidentified meteorites in the UK
Anyone with an unexplained object that has fallen in their back garden might want to check whether they have found a meteorite.

More than 30 are believed to fall in the United Kingdom each year - but very few are ever identified.

And the Open University is now encouraging the public to become meteorite hunters.

A website will help people to discover whether any objects they find are really from outer space.

The project is part of an Open University and BBC Two series, Stardate, which will encourage people to look for meteorites - which fall at a rate of more than one a fortnight, but mostly go unidentified.

Oldest objects

It is claimed that there are thousands of meteorites across the UK waiting to be found - with only 20 authenticated discoveries so far.

"These are rocks from space and are the oldest objects you can handle. They tell us about the formation of the solar system and the stars that lived and died before the solar system formed," says Richard Greenwood, the Open University's meteorite curator.

"There are two approaches to finding a meteorite; you could either look where other meteorites have been found, as statistically there is a higher chance of finding a meteorite there, or, if you are hoping to find something unique search in a place where no meteorite has previously been found."

Looking in relatively featureless landscapes could be lucrative, says Dr Greenwood.

If anyone does find a meteorite which is authenticated, it will be given a name - usually based on where it is found - and will be added to an official catalogue of finds held by the Natural History Museum.

A sample of any authenticated meteorite has to be handed to researchers, but the remainder will be the property of the person who finds it or the owner of the land where it was discovered.

Meteorites have so far been found in four sites in Scotland, two in Wales and Northern Ireland and 12 in England.

The website is to be launched on 9 August and a programme, which will feature the hunt, will be shown on BBC2 in late September.




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