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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 sized 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 east of U.S. Route 67, five to fifteen miles southeast 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.[citation needed]

The state notes the lights in travel maps, the city has erected a viewing platform, and the Marfa Chamber of Commerce promotes the peculiar lights.[1] The weekend-long Marfa Lights Festival is held annually in the city's downtown.

Contents

Unsolved Mysteries testimonies

The lights were the subject of a segment on the TV series Unsolved Mysteries. Elderly local resident Julia Plumbley discusses the sighting her father Robert Ellison reported in the early 20th century. Ellison and a fellow rancher witnessed the lights and initally assumed them to be Apache campfires, but the fires continued to be seen for weeks on end, and beyond. Another local resident, Hallie Stillwell (b. Oct-20-1887) told of coming to Marfa in 1916 on business with some family members and was riding near town in a car when a family member pointed out the lights. The group observed them. Stillwell recalled "We were just visiting and talking, and all of the sudden we saw lights over on the Chinati Mountains. It couldn't be any kind of car lights. And we first thought probably it was a campfire of Indians or Mexicans, or ranchers. But it didn't act like a campfire at all." The reenactment segment shows a young Stillwell commenting on the lights moving around and floating above the ground. "They were peculiar and I'd never seen anything like them before. And of course none of us knew anything about it, we were not scientists or anything like that, so we said 'Well, it couldn't be anything but a ghost, it's just ghost lights.' And from then on we mentioned them as ghost lights." The segment further tells of the lights being seen again in 1943 near Marfa's army air base. Witness Fritz Kahl stated in interview, "When we saw the Marfa lights the first time there was no vehicular traffic at night. Fuel was rationed, lights were a phenomena in themselves in those days because there were no lights. When the moon is out, it's beautiful. When the moon is not out its so dark it's . . . awesome. We saw something that was totally foreign to anything in and around the airbase. When we did see the lights we were very curious and we inquired in the village of Marfa about these strange things, and yeah, sure, 'we've got little lights, what else?' They are so beautiful!"

Reports of similar nocturnal lights

Official viewing platform, east of Marfa

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.[citation needed] Appearances of apparently similar lights have been reported worldwide (see Ghost lights).

Criticism

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,[citation needed] 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 "View Park", a roadside park on the south side of U.S. Route 90 about 9 miles (14 km) east of Marfa, 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Other critics attribute Marfa Lights to automobile lights on Highway 67.[citation needed] 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. 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.[citation needed] 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.

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. (However, other people claim that researchers with longer running studies have photographed mysterious lights south and southeast of the view park.)[citation needed]

Location

See also

References

  1. ^ http://www.marfacc.com/about/history.php
  2. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2000 and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2005-05-03. http://www.census.gov/geo/www/gazetteer/gazette.html. Retrieved 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

External links








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