Marfa Lights in Texas: “Marfalous” Manifestation or Mega-Misunderstanding?

One of my Texan friends told me about a phenomenon known as the Marfa Lights. I hadn’t heard of them before so … I went digging.

Marfa, Texas is a very small town (pop. 2400) in western Texas where the most notable feature, besides the lights, is the thriving art community. It’s actually quite a colorful place, no pun intended.

The area is surrounded by three mountain chains and when the lights appear, it’s against the backdrop of the Chinati mountains. The area between the mountains known as Mitchell Flat is dry, arid, and pretty much a flat desert.

The Facts

  • Rte. 67 runs through this area and many have claimed that the lights from this highway are what people are seeing as the Marfa Lights.
  • The Mitchell Flat area is residential – people own the property and live there, so that makes it harder to investigate the lights.
  • There is a radio tower in the middle of the desert area.
  • There are power lines running through the area of Mitchell Flat.
  • Townspeople erected a viewing center for visitors to relax and view the lights.
  • The lights actually only appear 20-30 times a year.
  • The Society of Physics Students at the University of Texas at Dallas conducted a study of the lights and concluded they were caused by car headlights on the highway.
  • The area is known to experience weather conditions known as temperature inversions that could cause the headlights to be seen in distorted and odd ways.

Mountain Mischief

I’d like to call attention to the fact that this area is surrounded by mountains, mountains that were formed by the movement of tectonic plates. In mountainous regions around the world, people have reported seeing balls of light around “their” mountain before either a volcanic eruption or an earthquake.  There is still some controversy surrounding the existence of ball lightning, but I agree with the scientists who think it does exist.

Sure, I think a lot of people are seeing car lights distorted in a temperature inversion, and even without the inversion. I mean, the air is clear out there, and other than a radio tower and power lines, not a lot is in the way.

But I think we’d be missing an important point if that’s all we thought were causing the lights.

Engineers & Physicists

James Bunnel, a retired aerospace engineer and a Marfa Lights researcher believes they are a type of ball lighting. James said that many people are seeing car lights, but that there is another type of ball light out there that isn’t seen that often. He said they appear for as little as a few seconds to as much as hours. I don’t know about you but the opinion of an aerospace engineer carries more weight with me than any desk-bound skeptic.

Physicist Yoshi Hiko Otsuki who is a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, believes the lights are a natural phenomenon caused by the atmosphere and/or electricity. Interestingly, one Marfa resident said he saw a light one night and it was following the path of the power lines in that area.

The professor and his team investigated the Marfa lights, and one of his crew members was Edson Hendricks who acted as the Mission Specialist. Hendricks specializes in the study of sounds made by the atmosphere, or Spherics. He reports that the lights make a sound in a descending pitch that sounds like a whistle that starts high and progresses to the low range.

That reminded me of another electronic phenomenon hosted by our planet – the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. It hums. Electricity makes noise, so the fact that Hendricks captured some sounds associated with the lights makes me further believe that these lights are a natural, electricity-related phenomenon.

Student Researchers

The student researchers from the University of Texas (Dallas) did a very good job with their tests, however, I don’t think they went far enough. Sure the headlights are there and people are seeing them, but they can be seen any day or night of the year. And these other lights are only seen 20-30 times a year. So the students weren’t looking at the same lights that other researchers have seen.

Verdict, Please!

I believe the lights that are only seen a few times out of the whole year are caused by an earth science property, possibly ball lightning, possibly something else we don’t yet understand.  All the other lights are almost surely car headlights.

If this topic interests you, see my other blog post about the Brown Mountain Orbs (Lights) appearing in North Carolina. It appears under the March2012 category to the right of the page.

Til the next time!

3 comments

  1. The theory includes the concept that the nocturnal flying predators, that appear like they are dancing and dividing and reuniting—those are seen only a few times a year in the Marfa area of Texas. The reason they fly there only on occasion? They hunt for the easiest prey in any particular location on any particular night, making it more effective to change hunting locations frequently. They probably fly in other areas of southwest Texas and Mexico, when they are not near Marfa. Eyewitnesses in Mexico have often seen large flying creatures, but we have much work to do in learning the details.

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