Space Junk
There are more than 500,000 pieces of space debris orbiting Earth. World Science Festival

The mysterious object floating in space that was spotted from different areas around the American Southeast was actually just a piece of space junk, NASA said. The announcement came after hundreds of people took to social media to report seeing a bright fireball with lights trailing behind it hurtling through the sky in the early morning hours Monday.

But NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center was on it. The space agency tracked the light with five different cameras and determined that it was nothing more than a piece of flaming debris, which forms when discarded rocket stages, disintegrated metal and other once-operational material congeals.

“It wasn't a meteor. We think it might be of re-entering space junk, because it was moving very slow,” Bill cooke, an asteroid at expert at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama told “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.”

The space junk, which Cooke said may have been launched into orbit 50 years ago, was spotted around 1:30 a.m. in Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and elsewhere. Local media outlets throughout the South reported on the phenomenon after a wave of comments and social media activity.

By 2009 NASA was tracking at least 19,00 pieces of debris larger than 2 inches in size, with the U.S. Department of Defense using screening technology to identify larger pieces before they would enter Earth's atmosphere. NASA has considered shooting larger pieces of leftover rocket scraps out of the sky with Earth-based lasers. The size of the object that passed by early Monday wasn't immediately clear.