A desperate bid is being made to track down a meteorite which went missing after going on show to thousands of Sussex schoolchildren.
The four-and-a-half-thousand-million-year-old meteorite was last seen at a children’s science and technology extravaganza - the Big Bang Fair South East - at Ardingly in June.
Astronomer Dr Francisco Diego, a senior teaching fellow in physics and astronomy at University College London, has now written to schools in Crawley, Horsham and Mid Sussex - among others - in a bid to track down the missing space rock.
Dr Diego was lecturing on the history of time at the Big Bang Fair.
During it he circulated the meteorite for pupils to handle and pass around.
In a letter to scores of schools whose pupils attended the fair, Dr Diego - who has appeared on a number of TV series including Stephen Hawking’s Universe, BBC’s The Planets, and BBC’s Wonders of the Universe - said: “Unfortunately, the meteorite was not returned to me and taken away, probably by mistake.
“This iron meteorite has little commercial value, but it is of high emotional value to me as it is a present from an old friend that found it many years ago back in Mexico.
“I use it in all my lectures and TV shows as a unique educational prop.”
Among the schools contacted was Gossops Green Primary School in Crawley. Pupils from Oathall Community College in Haywards Heath; Burgess Hill Girls’ School, and Windlesham House School in Horsham were also at the fair. None have been able to shed any light on the meteorite’s disappearance.
More than 8,000 youngsters attended the fair with representatives from more than 160 local companies providing demonstrations and workshops.
Dr Diego said: “I have contacted more than 60 schools, from a total of 200. Those 60 were more likely to have attended my lecture, as selected by the organisers. Some had booked their slot and others came ad oc on the day, hence the difficulty in locating them.”
Dr Diego said he had had the meteorite for about 15 years and it had been seen in countless TV programmes and TV news interviews.
He added: “It is a fragment of a large fall in Toluca, Mexico - my country - in 1776 and was given to me by my best friend.”
It has been certified as genuine by a meteorite expert.