YOUNG astronomers were in for a treat when they were allowed to lay their hands on a set of moon rock samples worth £17m.

Students from four schools were invited to Saints Peter and Paul City Learning Centre for a special demonstration to celebrate Einstein's birthday in Einstein Year, the 100th anniversary of the publication of his key papers on relativity and quantum mechanics.

The session included an up-close look at samples brought back by the Apollo moon missions and a set of meteorites which had been borrowed from the Government.

The set of moon dust and rock samples, which were set in a block of glass to protect them, is just one of two in the UK.

The tiny samples included dust from a patch of orange soil, which was a surprise discovery by one of the astronauts who walked the surface during the final manned moon mission, Apollo 17.

Other lunar locations from which the samples had been taken included the Descartes Highlands, Mare Ibrium and the Taurus-Lithgow Valley.

Also being passed around the classroom was an incredibly rare piece of the Martian Nakhla meteorite, which fell in Alexandria in 1911.

Others included a section of the Murchison meteorite, a stony meteorite which fell in Australia in 1969 and which scientists believe could have been a piece of comet.

Physics teacher Andrea Fesmer and Dr Andy Newsham, who led the demonstration, had to agree to follow strict security procedures.

The event was wound up with a talk and video clips on the Apollo moon missions.