NASA identifies ‘fireball’ over southeast as falling space junk

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - We start with the most important question.

"This was definitely not aliens," says Bill Cooke, who studies meteoroids at Marshall Space Flight Center. There's still some mystery surrounding the event for Cooke though.

He says, "I'm wondering what everybody was doing up at 12:30 on a Sunday night."

As far as what came crashing out of the sky, Cooke has some strong ideas, "It wasn't a meteor. We think it might be a piece of re-entering space junk, because it was moving very slow."

Admittedly, slow is a relative term.

Cooke elaborates, "It was moving 14,000 to 16,000 miles per hour, and that may sound fast, but the slowest meteors move at like 24,000 miles per hour."

With that in mind, Cooke looks at the size of what broke apart over the southeast United States and makes his guesses from there. "It would probably be about the size of an upper stage, so this was probably a spent upper stage burning up," he said.

But don't expect to recognize it.

"It could have been launched 40 or 50 years ago easily," notes Cooke.

Welcome home, space junk!