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Unexplained Mysteries of Marfa Lights

Marfa Lights The Marfa lights or the Marfa ghost lights are unexplained lights (known as "ghost lights") usually seen near U.S. Route 67 on Mitchell Flat east of Marfa, Texas, in the United States.

The first published account of the lights was written in 1957, and this article is the sole source for anecdotal claims that the lights date back to the 1800s. Reports often describe brightly glowing basketball size spheres floating above the ground, or sometimes high in the air. Colors are usually described as white, yellow, orange or red, but green and blue are sometimes reported. The balls are said to hover at about shoulder height, or to move laterally at low speeds, or sometimes to shoot around rapidly in any direction. They often appear in pairs or groups, according to reports, to divide into pairs or merge together, to disappear and reappear, and sometimes to move in seemingly regular patterns. Their sizes are typically said to resemble soccer balls or basketballs.

Sightings are reported occasionally and unpredictably, perhaps ten to twenty times a year. There are no reliable reports of daytime sightings; the lights seem to be a nocturnal phenomenon only.

According to the people who claim to have seen the lights, they may appear at any time of night, typically south of U.S. Route 90 and U.S. Route 67, five to fifteen miles east of Marfa, at unpredictable directions and apparent distances. They can persist from a fraction of a second to several hours. There is evidently no connection between appearances of the Marfa lights and anything else besides nighttime hours. They appear in all seasons of the year and in any weather, seemingly uninfluenced by such factors. They sometimes have been observed during late dusk and early dawn, when the landscape is dimly illuminated.

It is extremely difficult to approach an ongoing display of the Marfa lights, mainly due to the dangerous terrain of Mitchell Flat. Also, all of the land where the Marfa Lights are observed is private property, and access is prohibited without explicit permission from the owners. There are only a very few accounts of success in moving very close to observed lights, but those that exist generally describe objects resembling fireworks lacking both smoke and sound.

Reports of similar nocturnal lights

Marfa Lights

Less frequent accounts of seemingly similar anomalous nocturnal lights have arisen along a broad and elongated region within west Texas, stretching generally from El Paso southeastward along the Rio Grande Valley, past Big Bend National Park and farther southeastward into Mexico. Appearances of apparently similar lights have been reported worldwide (see Ghost lights).


Skeptics discount paranormal sources for the lights, attributing them to mistaken sightings of ordinary nighttime lights, such as distant vehicle lights, ranch lights, or astronomical objects. A few suggest they have deliberately been given a paranomal mystique designed to attract tourist business to this remote west Texas area, pointing out that it wasn't until July 1957 that the earliest published account of the Marfa lights, "The Mystery of the Texas Ghost Light," by Paul Moran, appeared in Coronet magazine. Critics, challenging this account, note that the designated "viewing area" is located at the site of Marfa Army Airfield, where tens of thousands of personnel were stationed between 1942 and 1947, training American and Allied pilots. This massive field was then used for years as a regional airport, with daily airline service. Between Marfa AAF and its satellite fields—each constantly patrolled by sentries—they consider it unlikely that any actual phenomena would have remained unobserved and unmentioned.

A number of projects carried out by nonresident investigators over several decades have generally confirmed the appearance of the anomalous lights often with photographic and video evidence. Many suggestions have been offered to explain the reported observations, but no consensus has been reached.

The dominant skeptical explanation seems to be that the lights are a sort of mirage caused by sharp temperature gradients between cold and warm layers of air. Marfa is located at an altitude of 4,688 feet (1,429 m) above sea level, and temperature differentials of 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit (28-33 degrees Celsius) between high and low temperature are quite common. Proponents of this explanation reject the close-range accounts of the phenomenon, which they regard as invariably anecdotal.

Some contend that the lights are the result of a naturally occurring phenomenon, the piezoelectric effect, discovered by Pierre Curie in 1883. In this case, critics contend that the mountainous region is made up of mostly rocks containing quartz that expand during the day and contract at night, due to thermal expansion. This expansion and contraction creates stress on the quartz crystals which in turn is converted into voltage that is accumulated over time until it is then discharged into the atmosphere creating a ball lightning effect.

Other critics attribute Marfa Lights to automobile lights on Highway 67., The four-night effort by UT Dallas students (see SPS study below) focused on automobile lights and reached a conclusion that vehicle lights can be seen from the View Park. The Aerial Hyperspectral and Reflection Study (see below) also focused for one night on reflected vehicle lights on Highway 67. These studies make the case that car lights can be seen from the View Park and they do look mysterious to many View Park visitors but longer term studies with multiple monitoring stations saving nightly videos have shown that the core source of Marfa Lights reports may be some type of natural light phenomena that appears as infrequently as 10 to 15 times a year. On the other hand, it is easily shown that automobile headlights are very visible over great distances, and many Marfa Lights observations can be dismissed as auto headlights.

Marfa Lights

The complete lack of reports from the tens of thousands of potential observers at Marfa AAF and satellite fields is in keeping with theories that attribute the lights toward man-made light sources. During World War II, there were significantly fewer potential fixed sources (such as ranch lights) and very few vehicles driving at night.

The 2004 SPS investigation

In May 2004, a group from The Society of Physics Students at the University of Texas at Dallas spent four days investigating and recording lights observed southwest of the view park using traffic volume monitoring equipment, video cameras, binoculars, and chase cars. Their report [1] made the following conclusions:

* U.S. Highway 67 is visible from the Marfa Lights viewing location
* The frequency of lights southwest of the view park correlates with the frequency of vehicle traffic on U.S. 67
* The motion of the observed lights behaved in a predictable fashion
* At least one light was directly correlated with a vehicle on U.S. 67 observed by a chase vehicle.

They came to the conclusion that all of the lights observed over a four night period southwest of the view park could be reliably attributed to automobile headlights traveling along U.S. 67 between Marfa and Presidio, TX.

Other people claim that researchers with longer running studies have photographed mysterious lights south and southeast of the view park.

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