The Marfa Lights, also called the Marfa Ghost Lights or Marfa Mystery Lights, are unexplained spheres of light that can be seen hovering in the distant prairie, near the west Texas town of Marfa. The mysterious lights falls under the category of phenomenon sometimes referred to as ‘ghost lights’. These spheres of light are usually seen just east of Marfa, looking south from Highway 90, in an area called the Mitchell Flat.
The lights are described as basketball sized spheres that hover about 5 to 6 feet above the ground, but at times have been reported floating at higher elevations. Colors most often seen are white, yellow, orange, and red, but green and blue lights have been observed as well. The lights usually have a pulsing quality, where the light brightens then dims repeatedly, in a fast blinking manner.
The mysterious lights hover and move around with no apparent pattern, or repetition of movement. Sometimes they will move about laterally at a slow pace, and at other times, shoot around at a rapid speed, in most any direction. A curious aspect is that they tend to appear in pairs or groups, sometimes merging together, splitting apart, or suddenly disappearing and reappearing.
With the exception of being a nocturnal event, the appearance of the Marfa Lights is unpredictable, only showing up approximately 15 to 30 times a year. Factors, such as the season and weather do not seem to influence when they appear, or their frequency.
According to Cecilia Thompson’s History of Marfa and Presidio County, a West Texas cowhand named Robert Ellison saw the mysterious lights in 1883. The story was relayed orally to Ellisons’s family, and somehow made it to Thompson and her book. According to the story, Ellison had been driving his cattle through Paisano Pass, near Marfa, when he saw the mysterious lights. Initially, he had feared that the lights were Apache campfires, but after viewing them for a period of time and watching them move about, he realized they were not. He investigated the area thoroughly on horseback, but could find no ashes, or evidence of a campsite. When he told other settlers of the strange lights, they mentioned that they too have seen them, but did not have an explanation.
In July of 1957, the story of the Marfa Lights also appeared Coronet Magazine, in an article titled, The Mystery of the Texas Ghost Light.
In May of 2004, The Society of Physics Students at The University of Texas – Dallas, launched a four day investigation of the Marfa Lights (see report). Their determination was that the lights were headlights from cars traveling northbound on Highway 67, distorted by the desert environment and rugged terrain of the Mitchell Flat, as viewed form the Marfa Lights Viewing Platform. For their experiment, they video taped the mystery lights, using a radio tower located between the Viewing Platform and Highway 67 as a point of reference. They found that the mystery lights would appear and disappear at very specific locations on the horizon, and followed a very specific path, which would be consistent with cars traveling on Highway 67.
The use of a chase car on Highway 67 was also employed, which was positively identified from the Viewing Area by use of lasers and radio communications. The chase car would closely follow traffic traveling north on Highway 67, which, from the perspective of the Viewing Platform, would appear as a set of mystery lights, being followed by lights positively identified as the chase car. Also, mystery lights were observed passing through the chase car’s lights when the chase car reported being passed by other vehicles.
Seasoned researchers of the Marfa Lights, and those that are familiar with the phenomenon, acknowledge the appearance of the headlights on Highway 67 to the southwest. However, they maintain that the real phenomenon occurs infrequently, and is seen more to the south/southeast from the Viewing Area on Highway 90.
Other Possible Explanations
A few of the other possible explanations that have been suggested for the Marfa Mystery Lights have been: ball lightning, St. Elmos Fire, swamp gas (Really? In West Texas?), distance lights or automobiles, phosphorescent mineral deposits, piezoelectric effects from tectonic activity or earthquakes, ghosts, spirits, alien probes, and UFOs – to name a few. However, despite all the investigations, and attempts as explaining the Marfa Lights, it still remains a fascinating mystery.