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Everything You Need to Know About the Mysterious Marfa Lights

Sucheta Pradhan Mar 20, 2019
Marfa lights are mysterious spheres of light, which are seen glowing in Marfa, a city in Texas. Here's everything you may want to know about the Marfa lights and the mystery behind them.

Quick Fact

In July 1957, the Coronet Magazine published a story about the mystery of the Marfa lights. This was the first account about the mysterious lights ever to have been published.
The city of Marfa is located in the high desert of the West Texas region. The city was founded as a railroad station in the first half of the 1880s.
Besides a number of attractions like the Big Bend National Park, and its historical architecture, the city is also very popular for the mysterious lights, which can be seen during the night, and also for sometime during the dusk and the dawn hours, when the sky is partially dark.
Commonly known as the Marfa lights or the Marfa Ghost Lights, these have been seen in the region for the past 100 years, and have continued to amaze and mystify people.
There have been numerous opinions with regards to the occurrence of these mysterious lights. Some people, who have witnessed this extremely bizarre and, at times, inexplicable phenomenon, have opined that these are paranormal in nature.
Something related to unworldly and supernatural beings, such as ghosts, aliens, or may even be related to something like Will-o'-the-wisp - the mysterious forest lights, which attract travelers towards them and draw them astray.
While these claims seem to be rather interesting and play a huge role in elevating the popularity of the Marfa lights, none of them seem to clarify what they exactly are. Let's make an attempt to figure out!

Where are They Seen?

Marfa lights have been seen by people in an area called Mitchell Flat that lies to the east of the city of Marfa, near U.S. Route 67.
They are also sometimes seen towards the south of U.S. Route 90. In fact, a special viewing platform has been constructed on the Mitchell Flat, from where people can actually witness this mysterious phenomenon.

How Do They Look?

✬ There have been several people, till today, to have actually witnessed this unusual phenomenon. Eyewitnesses have described these lights as brightly glowing orbs of light that seem to float just above the ground, and sometimes, even at higher altitudes.
✬ According to some descriptions, the orbs seem to be the size of basketballs, and have hues of red, orange, white, and yellow. According to some sources, they sometimes appear in shades of blue and green.
✬ These orbs, because they float in mid-air, are constantly in motion. So, some eyewitness reports also describe how the two floating orbs merge with each other or how one of the orbs, suddenly splits into two. At times, they also appear as mere lines of light.
✬ They flicker and twinkle and, at times, seem to pass so speedily across the sky that some native Americans, residing near the area where the lights are mostly seen, believed that they were actually stars, falling from the sky.

Early Investigations

✬ There have been several attempts, by numerous people, to explain this unusual phenomenon.
✬ In 1883, a cowherd named Robert Reed Ellison saw the lights flickering in mid-air, while he was herding his cattle near the Mitchell Flat area. He thought that the lights came from the Apache campfires and ignored them.
✬ When Ellison spoke to the people living in the nearby areas about the lights, he was informed that it was a common occurrence in the region. This is the first ever recorded mention of the lights.
✬ Later on, according to the Texas State Historical Association, when Ellison and some others tried to investigate the source of the lights, they did not find any evidence of campfire or ash.
✬ Later, during World War II, some pilots from the Marfa Army Airfield, which lies in the vicinity of U.S. Route 90, attempted to locate the point of origin of the Marfa lights. However, their investigation also did not yield any fruit.

✬ It was probably due to such fruitless investigations.

What Science Says

✬ Number of scientists and academics have tried to figure out the possible reasons behind the occurrence of the Marfa lights.

✬ A group of Physics students from the University of Texas did a four-night study to locate the source of the lights. They concluded that those lights are nothing but the reflection of automobile headlights, coming from U.S. Route 67.
✬ Another explanation for the occurrence of Marfa lights relates to some sort of an optical illusion that may be caused due to sharp temperature gradients in different layers of air. Also known as superior mirage or Fata Morgana, it occurs when a layer of warm air rests upon a cooler one.
✬ The Marfa lights have also been associated with some gases such as phosphine and methane, which tend to ignite when exposed to oxygen. These, then glow in the dark, and are therefore, thought be one of the sources of the Marfa lights.
Despite so many studies and claims with respect to the occurrence of the Marfa lights, none of the theories have been proven till date. However, they continue to be one of the major spectacles in the city of Marfa.
They can be seen, mainly during nighttime, and appear in any kind of weather or in any season of the year. Interestingly, the Marfa Chamber of Commerce organizes an annual festival, known as the Marfa Lights Festival, in order to promote the phenomenon in the tourism market.