A Bluff fisherman has found what is believed to be a piece of space junk from an American space shuttle.
Russell Trow stumbled upon the large sphere during a trip to the Titi (Muttonbird) Islands last month.
"It was sitting about 150 metres above the waterline. It would have needed a tidal wave to get there. It's a bit of a mystery."
He estimates the object weighs between 80 and 100kg and has burn marks on the outside.
Trow commissioned a helicopter to lift it off the shore, where it was later deposited on a boat and brought back to Bluff.
"I just thought I would bring it home to see what it was. It's just something different."
A fisherman of 40 years, Trow said while the ball could be a buoy off a fishing vessel, he had never seen anything like it.
The discovery had created a stir among space enthusiasts, with many agreeing the fragments of failed spacecraft, redundant satellites or spent booster rockets could sometimes make it back to Earth.
Southland Astronomical Society treasurer Bob Evans believes it is a piece of space junk.
"I'm 99 per cent sure."
More than 40 years ago, Evans was involved in the discovery of some similarly shaped space balls, from a Russian rocket that failed when launching a Venus probe, found near Ashburton in 1972.
Southland nature historian Lloyd Esler is adamant it is the real thing. "I can confirm that it is indeed from a rocket - I think an American Delta 2 or Delta 4."
Esler has Southland's only other example of space debris, found on the Fiordland coast in 2004.
"It is identical to my one but shows a nice scorch pattern where it was heated on re-entry. It's a very significant find."
- The Southland Times