The Marfa Lights Mystery.

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.


These lights in this area have persisted all through the 1800s, and they continue today. These 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 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.


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. Also, repeated appearances of apparently similar lights have been reported worldwide. Some of these emerge, and then seem to fade over time, and finally disappear. Others persist over many years. Undoubtedly the most renowned among the latter are the Hessdalen lights, of Hessdalen, Norway. A similar, less well recognized, persistent phenomenon are the Min Min lights of northeastern Australia, and a number of other like cases are known such as the Paulding Light near Watersmeet, Michigan. In the Gurdon, Arkansas, area, there is a single light there that has bizarre properties. It has been featured in local media nearly every Halloween and on the show Unsolved Mysteries. This is called the Gurdon Light.




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 (around 30 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 charge that attempts to attribute Marfa Lights to automobile lights on Highway 67 based on short term studies are overly simplistic. The four night effort by University of Texas 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 (readers are referred to for photographs and information regarding non-automobile and non-mirage mystery lights collected since 2001).


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.


Aerial Hyperspectral and Reflection Studies.


The Marfa Lights have been attributed to swamp gas, phosphorescent minerals, flashlights, local geology, ball lightning and car headlights. However, those who claim they are car headlights have yet to devise a mechanism that explains the unusual behavior such as blinking, merging, dividing, changing intensities.[2] This report attempts to answer both of these questions. A 215-channel hyperspectral sensor was flown over the Marfa Lights on August 25, 2000. At the same time, a ground observer, standing at the Official Marfa Light Viewing Area, recorded the Lights, aircraft and radio communication on conventional camcorder.


Purpose of This Study.


(1) Determine the light wavelengths and thermal characteristics [3]of the Marfa Lights using an airborne

      hyperspectral sensor[4]


(2) Develop a model that explains the unusual behavior. A ground observer recorded the Lights and radio

      communication with the aircraft at the Official Marfa Lights Viewing Area.


Summary of Results.


1. While the ground observer saw and recorded Marfa Lights [6], the pilots and airborne hyperspectral

    sensor saw nothing.


2. The hyperspectral sensor recorded no anomalies in wavelengths ranging from the ultraviolet to the  

    thermal infrared. That is, nothing above background. The instrument was so sensitive that roads,

    fences, porch lights, water bodies, and soil types could be distinguished using the thermal sensor.


3. The sensor did identify areas of highly reflective white soil in the Marfa Light area and along Hwy 67/90.


Significance of the Findings.


Because there were no data above background levels in all light and thermal channels, the following hypotheses for the Marfa Lights can be positively ruled out: burning swamp gas, peizoelectric effects, phosphorescent minerals, car lights (direct), flashlights, ball lightning, and fault activity.


Explaining the Unusual Behavior of the Marfa Lights.


Highly reflective soils are found along the curved slope of the Chinati Mts. and on the shoulders of Hwy 67/90. This is important because it provides a mechanism to generate reflections on a curved surface.

A curved surface will distort an image.


An example of this phenomenon is illustrated by the distortion of the regular gratings of the A/C grill by the curved mirror. Whether there were sufficient reflective soils and curved surfaces in the Marfa Light area was determined by the combination of aerial photographs, Digital Elevation Models and local soil information [7] to create a 3-D image.


3-D Draped Images of the Marfa Light Area.


The aerial photograph of the Marfa area is "draped" over the Digital Elevation Model, creating a 3-D image that can be viewed from any angle. The relationship between the reflective soils (red) and Hwy 67/90 (blue) is shown in the view looking SW from the Marfa Lights Observation Area (Vertical exag. 15x).


The curved surface is also demonstrated by a NE view, as one would drive down Hwy 67/90 (and toward the Observation Area).


A Home Experiment Using a Facial Mirror and a Flashlight.


A simple experiment using a small curved facial mirror and a flashlight were used to re-create the curved surface-reflection phenomenon that duplicated the appearance of the Marfa Lights with surprising accuracy [8]. In this experiment you will observe one light source can be split into two or three separate beams. It is well known that reflected light can be amplified and enhanced [2].




Janks, J.S.(2002) "The Mysterious Marfa Lights - A Riddle Solved by Remote Sensing" Earth Observation Magazine, Vol.11, No.10, pp.31-32.


Silverman, M.P. (1998) "Waves and Grains - Reflections on Light and Learning," Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 410 p.


Marfa's location.


Marfa is located at 30°18′43″N, 104°1′29″W.


The "Marfa Lights" label within this image shows where car lights (not Marfa Lights) can be seen on Highway 67. Marfa Lights are typically seen west, south and southeast of the View Park instead of southwest as shown in this image. See for additional information.



US Gazetteer files: 2000 and 1990. United States Census Bureau (2005-05-03). Retrieved on 2008-01-31.


Judith M. Brueske, Ph.D., "The Marfa Lights, Being a Collection of First-Hand Accounts by People Who Have Seen the Lights Close-Up or in Unusual Circumstances, and Related Material," Second Revised Edition, Ocotillo Enterprises, P.O. Box 195, Alpine, Texas 79831, USA, 1989;


James Bunnell, "Night Orbs," Lacey Publishing Company, 29 Bounty Road West, Benbrook, TX 76132-1003, USA, 2003;


Herbert Lindee, "Ghosts Lights of Texas," Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 166, No. 4, Summer 1992, pp. 400-406;


Elton Miles, "Tales of the Big Bend," Texas A&M University Press, 1976, pp. 149-167;


Paul Moran, "The Mystery of the Texas Ghost Light," Coronet Magazine, July 1957;


Dennis Stacy, "The Marfa Lights, A Viewer's Guide," Seale & Stacy, Box 12434, San Antonio, Texas 78212, USA, 1989;


David Stipp, "Marfa, Texas, Finds a Flickering Fame in Mystery Lights," Wall Street Journal, March 21, 1984, p. A1.


The Society of Physics Students at the University of Texas at Dallas, "An Experimental Analysis of the Marfa Lights", 2004




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