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Marfa Lights – the mysterious light show in west Texas

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Marfa Lights  - photo courtesy Robert Thomson

Reports in 1883

Marfa Lights - photo courtesy J. BurnellIn 1883, the first official report of the Marfa Lights came to light.  A Texas homesteader, Robert Ellison, noticed the lights and feared that Indians were attacking his home.  After viewing the lights for some time however, it became clear to Mr. Ellison that these mysterious lights were not attacking Indians.  These lights danced and flew wildly across the open plains.

In more recent times, hundreds of photos and video have been shot of the Marfa Lights.  Virtually all the residents of Marfa, Texas can recount sightings of the mysterious lights.  The source of the lights is unknown.

Possible Explanations Debunked

The Marfa, Texas phenomena is a classic example of ghost lights, a phenomena commonly explained by scientific principles.  But the Marfa Lights still have scientist somewhat miffed.  Theories on the cause of ghost lights range from methane gas, St. Elmo’s Fire, even phosphorescent minerals that glow in the dark.  But, careful study of the Marfa situation has discounted all of these possibilities.  No trace of methane gases or phosphorescent minerals can be found.  St. Elmo’s Fire can be ruled out because the conditions in Marfa, Texas do not favor such a formation.  What the Marfa Lights are remains a mystery.

Where to View the Lights

The Marfa Lights appear on almost every night of the year and have been witnessed by literally thousands of onlookers.  The popularity of the lights and even prompted the Texas Highway Department to set up a special road side park as a Marfa Lights Viewing Area.  The lights appear out of nowhere and dart, flip, and dance across the vast plains to the amusement and astonishment of curious onlookers.

Plausible Theories?

One possible explanation commonly proposed is that the lights are a result of a phenomenon called atmospheric tunneling.  These are a kind of mirage where light reflected from nearby objects follows the contours of the earth.  There is a nearby road in Marfa so the automobile lights from this source are often sited as the primary contributor.   Two well-known geologist took careful measurements of the lights and attempted to synchronize their patterns to the movements of nearby cars.  But, as they later described, the lights danced at varying speeds starting and stopping at whim like ‘a rocker on a rocking chair’.

Another possible source of the lights could be the light emitted or reflecting off of planets and stars.  But this too is often discounted due to the erratic movement of the Marfa Lights relative to the static position of the planets and stars.  But there is one bonus to this theory over the automobile headlights theory – the Marfa Lights have been around a lot longer than the appearance of automobiles…

Viewing the Marfa Lights

imageThis is one anomaly that YOU can experience for yourself.  Residents of Marfa, Texas seem quite unaffected by the whole thing and will indicate that viewing the lights is a regular occurrence. On any given night, you can stop at the designated ‘viewing’ area, along with dozens of other watchers, and decide for yourself what these strange lights really are…

To get to Marfa, Texas, take I10 to Southwest Texas.  At Fort Stockton, take 385 south until you reach Highway 90.  Take Highway 90 west through Alpine, Texas until you reach Marfa, Texas.  Geographically, Marfa is located about 100 miles south of Pecos.

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