By Keerthi Chandrashekar ( | First Posted: Dec 08, 2012 06:05 AM EST

(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

It's been nearly four decades since their disappearance, but Alaska's moon rocks from the Apollo 11 mission to the moon have finally been returned to the state, state and federal officials announced at a press conference on Thursday. 

The four moon rocks are fairly tiny, ranging from 1/8 to 1/4 inch in size. They are housed in a tiny, acrylic glass ball that sits above a miniature Alaskan flag on a plaque. The flag traveled with Apollo 11 to the moon, and the plaque was presented by Nixon to Alaska Gov. Keith Miller back in 1969. Alongside states, Nixon also donated moon rocks to countries around the world, claiming that reaching the moon was a global effort. The rocks are currently on display at the Alaska State Museum until January.   

The moon rocks, part of 48.5 pounds of moon material originally brought back by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, disappeared back in 1973. The moon rocks were on display in the Alaska Transportation Museum until an arson fire broke out. Nobody expected to see them again. 

Coleman Anderson, a captain who can be seen in episodes of the Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" tried to gain ownership of the rocks back in 2010 claiming that he had rescued them from a garbage heap. He filed a lawsuit to gain formal title of the rocks or compensation from the state. Alaska countersued, stating instead that the rocks were stolen. 

"We think they were removed undamaged by (museum director Phil) Redden and put in a locked cabinet in his office and then taken to his house under the auspices of safe keeping," said Bob Banghart, chief curator at the Alaska State Museums, according to Anchorage Daily News. "We don't know how Mr. Anderson acquired them and through what process."

The case was eventually dismissed, and after a long time away from home, Alaska's moon rocks have finally been returned. 

Learn more about the moon material collected from the Apollo 11 mission at NASA.

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