A Romanian man planting potatoes almost died when a meteorite believed to be from the tale of Halley's Comet thudded into the ground inches from where he was working.

Dumitru Zvanca, 58, said: "I heard a brief whoosh of air and then something hit the ground just to one side of me with an enormous thud. I didn't see a meteor, but I saw the small crater of earth it made and whatever had hit the ground had sunk into the earth.

"I thought there might be more so I ran inside and waited until the next day - then I went out and dug it up."

The gardener from Suharau commune, in Botosani country in northern Romania contacted geologist Sorin Grindei, from Botosani, who said: "It had fallen 50-70 centimetres into the garden. It was like a black round ball, like a pool ball.

"The meteorite ended up in two equally sized halves and he kept one - the other has been sent for tests at the Geology Faculty in Lasi.

"Mr Zvanca saw a very rare event - many people see falling stars but only rarely do people get a chance to see it so up close and personal.

"In the period when it happened - 3-5 May - there was a meteor shower and we think it may be a part of Halley's Comet tail."

Manager of the Botosani Environmental Protection Agency, Dana Boariu, said: "Tests confirm it is a micro-meteorite, 7 cm wide and it is not radioactive."

Specialists say that the meteorite had been 10 times bigger when it entered the atmosphere but had been burned as it fell to earth.