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Museum offers reward for finder of meteorite

The National Museum is offering a cash reward to anyone who finds the meteorite that was spotted last week. Meteorites are worth their weight in gold and can command six-figure sums.

The glowing fireball, travelling at speeds of 100,000mph, was spotted shortly after midnight on Monday, August 22, by hundreds of people from Cork to Belfast and all along the east coast, according to David Moore, chairman of Astronomy Ireland.

"It looked like an extremely bright shooting star that was rocketing across the sky for a few seconds before it fell to earth," he said.

But unlike the misleading image of a giant molten orb depicted in sci-fi movies, real meteorites are typically the size of a football or golf ball and look like a burnt rock.

"They are not radioactive or toxic and would feel warm to the touch, at best, if picked up immediately after crashing."

Only two meteorites have been found on Irish soil over the past century due to the fact they rarely land on earth and Ireland is so small that they usually wind up in the sea.

The last one, found by an elderly woman in Co Carlow in 1999, was sold to a private collector in Scotland for several thousand pounds. Another was found in Northern Ireland in 1969.

Meteorites can be extremely valuable to scientists because they may contain clues to the universe, said Nigel Monaghan, of the natural history division at the National Museum of Ireland.

"They are leftover debris that's more than 500 million years old," he said.

"So far we haven't learned a lot but there are rare ones that can tell how old the solar system is. Occasionally, you might get one that has ricocheted off the moon or Mars, which could contain the building blocks of amino acids, suggesting life on other planets."

The museum will happily pay a reward if the meteorite is found. But its value -- and the reward -- would depend on the size and the rarity of the specimen found.

People often ring the museum thinking they have found a meteorite but they turn out to be what Mr Monaghan calls "meteor-wrongs".

"I've seen furballs from cows and lumps of metal and rocks and fossils," he said.

Meanwhile, Astronomy Ireland is also encouraging anyone who saw the meteorite to send in a report on its website.

Preliminary analysis suggests it may have landed in Co Sligo or elsewhere in the west, Mr Moore said.