A WIGAN man had an out of this world experience during a fossil search, stumbling across the remnants of a meteorite.
Retired engineer and commercial inventor Jim Winstanley, 70, agreed to a “pass the time” dinosaur hunt with his nine-year-old granddaughter, Emma Roberts at Bideford, on the Devon coast, during a week-long seaside family holiday.
And no sooner had the pair begun scrabbling about among the rocks along the famed Jurassic Coast, than they stumbled across what they initially believed could have been the top of a fossilised dinosaur egg shell.
But when he began scraping the encrusted sand and mud away, the 70-year-old began to realise that the object was like nothing he had even seen before.
An exhaustive trawl of astronomical websites when he returned home has led him to the conclusion that he has found the remnants of a meteorite, which could be thousands, or even millions of years old.
He is planning to send a sample to space experts based at the Jodrell Bank radio telescope in Cheshire for confirmation.
But he is yet to decide whether to eventually offer the amazing object for public display.
Jim, 70, who lives in Beardsmore Drive in Lowton, has been inventing industrial devices and aids to modern life for more than four decades.
He has a file half an inch thick of patents, and several have made it into factory production, including an anti jack-knife towbar device which stops caravans snaking out of control while being towed.
His latest invention, which has yet to be taken up, is a bolt-on snow chain device for motorists which is guaranteed, unlike regular chains, not to damage alloy wheels or the thread in increasingly expensive sports tyres.
This working life has made him familiar with most of the materials found here on Earth.
And so he was immediately suspicious when he spotted the strange shape poking out of the chalky sediment.
Jim said: “Emma saw all these people with their funny little hammers picking up stones and cracking them in half.
“When I told her that they were looking for fossils because the place was famous for them she started pestering me to have a go herself and we went over to see what we could find.
“We had been there for only two or three minutes when I saw the top of this thing peeping out of the rock.
“At first I was going to throw it away and I pulled my arm back to give it a hurl, but then had second thoughts and I am so glad now that I did.
“We didn’t have any of the proper tools or even a spade, so it was then a matter of finding some stones we could use to chisel the thing out.
“When we washed it clean in the sea we could see it was very unusual, and I said to Emma straight away that I though it might have come from space.
“But it was only by looking on the astronomical websites later that we could tell it was a meteorite, either the whole thing that had come down to earth after the rest had burned away entering the atmosphere, or parts that were left when a large one broke up on impact.
“It just goes to show what you can find if your keep your eyes open.”
Mr Winstanley said the “perfectly shaped meteorite” is non-magnetic and weighs in at four pounds. It is approximately five inches long and four inches wide.
Give it even a cursory glance and you see the object has a strange black and green surface at one end, which Jim believes was created as the rock burned white hot while entering the earth’s atmosphere.
The majority of meteorites are magnetic, and thus are considerably easier to find with metal detectors.