Theories about the Lights

1....Igniting gases: German engineer, Gerard Will de Brahm, recorded the mysterious lights in the North Carolina mountains in 1771. "The mountains emit nitrous vapors which are borne by the wind and when laden winds meet each other the niter inflames, sulphurates and deteriorates," said de Brahm. De Brahm was a scientific man and, of course, had a scientific explanation. ( The second U.S. Geological Survey returned to the flammable gas theory and pronounced that the Brown Mountain Lights were the result of the spontaneous combustion of marsh gas. Since there are no marshes on or near Brown Mountain, the report was met with some skepticism. They did, however, dispute a number of other theories about the Brown Mountain Lights stating the foxfire light was too feeble to be responsible for the sightings and that moonshine stills would not be in "sufficiently continuous operation to produce lights in the number and regularity of those seen at Brown Mountain." (

2...Will-o-the-wisp: Some have suggested will-o'-the-wisp, that elusive gas that resides in swamps, and yet no swamps are found in this area. ( Later in the decade, the United States Geological Survey again investigated the mystery lights, this time along with the United States Weather Bureau. Using a wide array of modern instruments, they determined that lights appearing above the mountain arose from the spontaneous combustion of marsh gasses. They also suggested that any remaining lights were the reflections of brush fires. March gasses? Perhaps they were paying too much attention to their instruments and ignoring their surroundings. There are so marshy areas on or anywhere near Brown Mountain, no swampy holes where such gasses might gather. It didn't take other scientists long to discount this theory. It was noted that phosphorous combustion could not have been seen from great distances even if marsh gasses were present; phosphorous combustion is more visible as you approach its origin. The Brown Mountain Lights, on the other hand, seem to disappear as you approach, and they are rarely visible at all from lower altitudes, where swamp gas would be likely to accumulate. Again, the lights are seen high above Brown Mountain.


3....Spirits and Ghosts: But the early frontiersman believed that the lights were the spirits of Cherokee and Catawba warriors slain in an ancient battle on the mountainside. ( Cherokee Indians were familiar with these lights as far back as the year 1200. According to Indian legend, a great battle was fought that year between the Cherokee and Catawba Indians near Brown Mountain. The Cherokees believed that the lights were the spirits of Indian maidens who went on searching through the centuries for their husbands and sweethearts who had died in the battle. ( There are innumerable stories of the lights. But perhaps the best description is that the lights are "a troop of candle-bearing ghosts who are destined to march forever back and forth across the mountain." ( For those who like a scarier tale, one gruesome story dates back to 1850. A young woman disappeared in the area. A search was begun, during which strange lights appeared over Brown Mountain. The searchers concluded that the lights were the spirit of the young woman, come back to haunt her killer. Locals believed the woman was killed by her cheating husband and soon after, he disappeared as mysteriously as his wife. Perhaps he is still running from his wife and the lights that are seen are simply the torches of the vengeful spirit and her murderer, forever pursuing and being pursued on Brown Mountain. ( 20...The most popular legend came from Shepherd M. Dugger, author of "The Balsam Groves of Grandfather Mountain" in 1937, when at the age of 83 he related the following story and description of the "lights": "I'll tell you a story I heard many years ago about those lights. I don't say that it's true, although there are a lot of people who believe it's so. "Over on, Jonas Ridge, near Linville Falls a man killed his wife about sixty years ago. That is, she disappeared and everybody thought he killed her. The whole community helped to search the mountain sides, but they couldn't find the body of the woman. One dark night while they were searching the hills some strange lights appeared over Brown Mountain. They weren't like any lights anyone, had ever seen before. Those who hadn't seen them wouldn't believe the ones who said they had, but pretty soon nearly everyone had seen them. Some people got scared and said that the lights were the spirit of the dead woman come back to haunt her murderer, or to keep people from searching for her. The search ended without anyone seeking any trace of her except some blood stains on a rock near Brown Mountain. Her husband said that they were from a pig he had killed a few days before. "A little while after that, a stranger in town left with a fine horse and wagon that had belonged to the dead woman's husband. The husband said the stranger had bought them, but everyone knew that he didn't have any money. He was never heard of again, and folks thought that he had helped with the murder or had known of it and had been bribed to leave. "The lights have been seen ever since. No one had ever seen them before that time. They weren't car lights, like some people say today, because that was long before the days of the automobile in this country. "Well they found. the woman's body under a cliff on Brown Mountain long years after, but without any signs of a head. The legend then took a little twist, of how it was this woman, out with a lanterr4l; looking for her head in the dark of a clear night, and the lights were the woman's lantern, going. from one side of the hill to the other and around the mountain, looking for her head." This was Mr. Dugger's story, and as far as many people are concerned that's still the story of how it happened close to l00 years ago. Other legends are even older that of Mr. Dugger's. ( takes the lights back to the 1700s, during the Revolutionary War, a fitting time for this bicentennial issue. A family had migrated across the mountains ' of Western North Carolina, finally settling close to Blowing' Rock, at the foot of what is now known as Brown Mountain. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War the father left his wife with her three small children to fight for his country. After the war, he returned to find only the charred remains of his home. Half crazed by despair and grief, he searched frantically for any signs of his lost family. All day he hunted and when night came he continued his long search, lighting his way,with a crude torch. Constantly roaming, it is said that, overcome by hunger and fatigue, he died on the top of Brown Mountain. Thus it is his restless, ever-searching spirit that wanders over that mountain to this very day, haunting it with his eerie beacon. (

4....Locomotive Headlights: Among the scientific investigations which have undertaken from time to time to explain the lights have been two conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey. The first was made in 1913 when the conclusion was reached that the lights were locomotive headlights from the Catawba Valley south of Brown Mountain. However, three years later in 1916 a great flood that swept through the Catawba Valley knocked out the railroad bridges. It was weeks before the right-of-way could be repaired and the locomotives could once again enter the valley. Roads were also washed out and power lines were down. But the lights continued to appear as usual. It became apparent that the lights could not be reflections from locomotive or automobile headlights. The Guide to the Old North State, prepared by the W.P.A. in the 1930s, states that the Brown Mountain Lights have "puzzled scientists for fifty years." The same story reports sightings of the lights in the days before the Civil War. ( In 1913, the first Geological Survey investigation decided the lights were caused by reflected light from locomotive headlights in the Catawba Valley, south of Brown Mountain. However, when the great Catawba Valley flood of 1916 knocked out power lines, roads and railroad bridges, suspending train traffic for weeks, the lights still appeared. Apparently, the lights were not caused by reflected light. ( "Brown Mountain Lights "From time to time, luminous objects, or beings, have often been reported from Brown Mountain, North Carolina. They appear, and then for a long time are not seen, and then they appear again. ...The luminosities travel, as if with motions of their own. They are brilliant, globular forms, and move in the sky with a leisureliness and duration that exclude the explanation in meteoric terms. For many years, there had been talk upon this subject, and then, in the year 1922, people of North Carolina, asking for a scientific investigation, were referred to the United States Geological Survey. A geologist was sent from Washington to investigate these things in the sky. One imagines, but most likely only faintly, the superiority of this geologist from Washington. He heard stories from the natives. He contrasted his own sound principles with the irresponsible gab of denizens, and went right to the investigation, scientfically. he went out on a road, and saw lights, and made his report. 47% of the lights that he saw were automobile headlights; 33% of them were locomotive headlights; 10% were lights in houses, and 10% were bush fires. Tot that up, and see that efficiency can't go further. The geologist from Washington, having investigated nothing that he had been sent to investigate, returned to Washington..." (Page 624) ( mountain)

5...Car Headlights: Always popular is the explanation that the lights are simply headlight reflections from Rattlesnake Knob in the distance... but this hardly explains the fact that the lights were reported well before automobiles were even invented. (

6....St. Elmos Fire: Late in 1919 the question of the Brown Mountain Lights was brought to the attention of the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Weather Bureau. Dr. W.J. Humphries of the Weather Bureau investigated and reported that the Brown Mountain Lights were similar to the Andes light of South America. The Andes light and its possible relation to the Brown Mountain Lights became the subject of a paper read before the American Meteorological Society in April 1941. In this report Dr. Herbert Lyman represented the lights as a manifestation of the Andes light. The second U.S. Geological Survey report disposes of the cause of the Brown Mountain Lights by saying they are due to the spontaneous combustion of marsh gases. But there are no marshy places on or about Brown Mountain. The report also states that the lights from foxfire would be too feeble to be seen at a distance of several miles. ( St. Elmo's Fire, that electrical phenomenon familiar to sea voyagers, was dismissed by a scientist from the Smithsonian Institution. He stated that St. Elmo's Fire and similar phenomena occurred at the extremity of some solid conductor and never in midair as in the case of the Brown Mountain Lights. ( Dr. W.J. Humphries, of the United States Weather Bureau presented a paper before the American Meteorological Society in April 1941, which concluded that the Brown Mountain Lights were similar to the Andes light of South America. While not exactly an explanation, Humphries findings did let folks know that Brown Mountain had a cousin to the South. (


7...Moonshine Stills: The report rules out the possibility that the lights are a reflection of mountain moonshine stills. "There are not enough such stills and they probably would not be in sufficiently continuous operation to produce lights in the number and regularity of those seen at Brown Mountain." ( Some have even suggested that the lights could be firing of moonshine stills by liquor makers on the mountain and while this theory is certainly a romantic one, it has been quite some time since moonshine was made on the slopes of Brown Mountain. (

8... Mirages: Some scientists have advanced the theory that the lights are a mirage. Through some peculiar atmospheric condition they believe the glowing balls are reflections from Hickory, Lenoir, and other towns in the area. The only drawback to this theory is that the lights were clearly seen before the War between the States, long before electricity was used to produce light. ( Some scientists have advanced the theory that the lights are a mirage. Through some peculiar atmospheric condition they believe the glowing balls are reflections from Hickory, Lenoir, and other towns in the area. The only drawback to this theory is that the lights were clearly seen before the War between the States, long before electricity was used to produce light. ( In 1977, the ORION group conducted a test, which proved that reflected light could produce lights above the crest of Brown Mountain. However, they rejected the theory that the Brown Mountain Lights could be solely explained by reflected light since the phenomenon had been observed long before electricity. The ORION group tried to reproduce the lights through seismic activity but was unable. ( That being said, there was an experiment conducted once that disproved some of the sightings from the nearby highway. A 500000 candlepower light was placed 22 miles away, and the observers saw this (white) light as a red light floating a few degrees above the horizon. This does not account for some of the more 'formal' sightings, the usual outline of which follows:- The lights appear rarely on some nights in the gorge, with no set appearance pattern. Usually they start out as blue/white or yellow lights, decaying to a dull red before disappearing. They weave and flit in and out of the trees (well below the crest) until they reach the edge of the river, then they disappear, sometimes reappearing in another spot. When they are seen, they are usually only visible for 2-10 seconds. For more info about these lights click on one of these links:- Brown Mountain Lights. The well known ghost lights of Brown Mountain, North Carolina. The Brown Mountain Lights. An interesting article at U.N.C. (

9...Mineral Deposits: Of the many scientific theories made to explain the Brown Mountain Lights, none have been proven. Some suggest that the lights are caused by a combination of several minerals and gases in the area. One geologist suggested that possibly deposits of radioactive uranium ore in the area may be responsible for producing the lights. Another suggests phosphorus, but this element oxidizes quickly and is not found here. Pitchblende Ore, from which radium is derived, has been mentioned, but the rays from radium are invisible. (


10...Seismic Events: In an experiment to determine whether the "true" Brown Mountain lights might be seismic in origin, ORION detonated small charges on Brown Mountain in July 1981. No artificially stimulated lights were recorded. (Frizzell, Michael A.; "Investigating the Brown Mountain Lights," INFO Journal, 9:22, January/February 1984. INFO = International Fortean Organization.) Reference. The Brown Mountain lights are classified under GLN1 with other "nocturnal lights." This category appears in our Catalog: Lightning, Auroras. To order, see: here. From Science Frontiers #33, MAY-JUN 1984. (c) 1984-2000 William R. Corliss (


11...In a 1940 report, Hobart A. Whitman concluded that the lights were not the result of natural ground sources. He analyzed rocks and soil from Brown Mountain and the surrounding area for any unusual elements. The rocks and soil didn't differ from rocks and soil across the entire western region of North Carolina.

12...As for brush fires, the mountain would have long ago burned down to support so many fires for so many years. The Smithsonian Institution discounted the popular theory that the Brown Mountain Lights were a manifestation of St. Elmo's fire, the electric-glow phenomenon occurring at the edge of a solid conductor such as an airplane wing. St. Elmo's fire does not occur in midsky as do the Brown Mountain Lights. Eventually, it was suggested that the lights were a mirage, the best scientific explanation of the regular appearance of the mysterious, floating globes over Brown Mountain to date. Legend has taken over where science failed. If the lights cannot be explained by science, they must exist outside the world of science. Unexplained lights at night are often personified in folklore and Indian legend as a lover in search of his or her beloved in the eternal hereafter. This is true of the Brown Mountain Lights as well. One legend has it that a storm swept away a beau on his scheduled night of elopement; his faithful lover waits still with a lantern in her hand for his arrival. Another version has it that a lover burns a candle as she searches for her beloved, who was murdered by a jealous rival. (

19...Miscellaneous: The usual theories have been put forward to explain these lights: reflections from nearby towns, ignited swamp gas, and car headlights, but as these lights were seen in the previous century when there were no cars, and as there are no marshes in the area, we can assume that these theories aren't very scientifically sound, and therefore may only be explained by one of the other theories surrounding earth lights. 9...Others have suggested fox-fire or some sort of phosphorus; radium rays; strange gases; geological anomalies with the rocks; and more.... but all of them have been dismissed. ( 14...These days, some people attribute the lights to the presence of extraterrestrials paying a repeat visit to the mountain (


13...Brown Mountain Lights Linnville, North Carolina Stop by Lonas Ridge at night and you might see a ghost in the mountain mist. Locals say it's a 150-year-old slave looking for his lost master. Rational, thinking types explain it away as static electricity and reflections from car headlights. If you're a real road tripper you can suspend your brain activity long enough to get hooked on the superstition. US 221 about 18 miles South of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hours: When it's dark and the ghost feels like showing up. Telephone: Unlisted (


A Skeptical View:

Close encounters of the skeptical kind Like many other scientists, I have been accused by True Believers of ignoring 'evidence' for UFOs. Daniel Caton Special to The Observer Published: Tuesday, October 6, 1998 Section: VIEWPOINT Page 13A "Have you ever seen anything in the sky that you didn't recognize?" This is one of the most common questions I get when I have the opportunity to show the stars to a group. There is usually a gleam in the questioner's eye, a reflection of the hope that there is something out there we are keeping secret. So, have I seen anything outside the usual? Well, actually, yes. Thrice. Like many other scientists, I've been accused by True Believers of ignoring the 'evidence' for UFOs. However, the important difference between my sightings and theirs is not the sighting but the reaction. Skepticism instead of obsession. There is a difference between an open mind and one that accepts all theories equally. And, quoting Sagan, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." My first encounter of the First Kind occurred as I was driving home from the observatory late one night. On a straight stretch of road I became aware of a beacon-like light extending up from the horizon about a third the way to the zenith. I slowed the van to a stop and turned off the headlights. Still there. I turned off all the lights and got out. Still there a faint, narrow fan of light, slightly to the south of due west. I kept it in my sight until I turned south, and picked it up again after resuming my westward travel toward Boone. It stayed off my port bow until lost in the glow of the town. I would sight it on two more occasions, always while alone (thus feeling some of the angst that UFO sighters experience!) My students would kid me about it and call it "Caton's Light." What was it? I don't know, but I know what it wasn't likely to be: an alien spacecraft, Elvis' return, an angel making a landing. We must apply Occam's Razor the criterion that says that we must accept the simplest explanation that will suffice. It may have been related to the gegenschein an faint glow sometimes seen in the direction opposite the sun. Maybe a distant spotlight or the occasional aurora seen this far south. It would be fun to figure it out and write it up for a journal article but, in "Skeptical Inquirer" rather than the "National Enquirer." Sadly, like UFOs, Caton's Light is difficult to study since it appeared randomly and not recently. On the other hand, there are some phenomena that are repeatable enough to investigate. In our area there are the Brown Mountain Lights mysterious luminaries seen from several vantage points around the Linville Gorge. A year ago I began an investigation of this phenomenon, allotting a small amount of time to the project. On the trips so far I've only seen one Light that was unexplainable a soft, bluish horizontal beam clearly under the tree canopy in an area devoid of roads. My second Encounter.. What are these lights? Swamp gas at 3,000 feet? Probably not. Perhaps some kind of geological 'Certs Effect' of stressed rocks (chew some of those wintergreen breath mints in front of a mirror tonight for a glimpse of some physics only recently explored!) Or, some kind of electrostatic discharge, a bigger version of the flash seen when pulling your socks off in the dark on a dry winter night. Further study may tell, but again, I don't think the Lights are likely to be ET taking a Parkway cruise. The trouble with this kind of work is that it is difficult to do and brings few rewards. I would not bet tenure or promotions on such speculative research. Yet it is important, not only for whatever knowledge to be gained but to show that science does investigate the 'paranormal.' The real downside is that after something is proved to be natural or nonsense it will in all likelihood still live on as a legend anyway. What is the point of research if the results are ignored? You simply can't have it both ways if you want us to investigate then you will need to accept our best conclusions until they are overturned that's the game of science. This is what drives us away from studying and debunking pseudoscience. At least in mainstream science my results will be (rightly) challenged by peers, and on the basis of logical reasoning. Not mocked by those who are arguing from authority ("I say [begin ital]it works[end ital]"), confusing correlations with causality, generalizing from anecdotes, ignoring the bulk of the evidence, and cutting themselves on Occam's Razor. And my third Encounter? To be continued ... mail: (



24... The name 'earth light' comes from a modern theory put forward by Paul Deveraux in 1982, that the lights are made by the earth itself. This theory shall be explored in detail a little later. The main theories at the moment seem to be: They are produced by a series of tenuously linked events, e.g. the landscape, current weather conditions, the geology of the area, etc. They are caused by tectonic faults in the earths crust. They are the souls of the dead. They are simply misinterpreted normal events, e.g. Fireflies, aurorae, red-sprites etc. They are mis-observed man made objects: Car lights, town lights, torchlights, fireworks, flares, reflections off metallic objects etc. They are deliberate hoaxes. They are actually secret government weapons. They are alien spacecraft/beings. They are the effect of some type of sub-atomic reaction (e.g. the rather suspect 'vorton' model). Being a scientist (an Astrophysicist/Cosmologist), I would have to say that the last theory is fairly unlikely. Although I do accept the fact that a 'macro-quantum' event could be responsible, due to the huge energies involved in sub-atomic physics, it would have to be a very well controlled reaction. If a reaction is involved, it is almost definitely some type of chemical reaction. There are also explanations for the sub-categories of earth lights, which I shall go into later, (this is only the introduction!). Types Of Earth Lights & other related/mysterious lights EARTH LIGHTS; Earth lights, spooklights, nim-nim lights, ghost lights, mystery lights, cemetery lights, nocturnal lights. Possibly earthquake lights. WILL-O'-THE-WISPS; Will-o'-the-wisps, ignis fatuus, fox fire, fata morgana, foolish fire, fairy lights, corpse candles, elf light. ST. ELMOS FIRE; St.Elmo's Fire, other atmospheric luminescence. LIGHTNING EFFECTS; Ball Lightning, sprites, blue jets. A General Explanation Of Each Type. 1)Earth lights. Earth lights are the main phenomenon being investigated on this website. They are usually in the form of orbs of light, but can be in the form of luminous vapours, spheres with fiery tails, or have no distinct size. They may also appear as plumes or flames, although these forms are rarer. Although the usual sightings are of orbs of light, these vary in size, luminosity, and colour. Many reports of the lights are from a distance, and so the size cannot be determined - however, close up sightings usually put the balls between about 15cm-60cm (1/2ft-2ft). The luminosity can be startlingly bright (lighting up the night sky, for example), very bright (illuminating nearby objects), bright (about as bright as a torch), or even fairly dim (like a candle). Sometimes, the luminosity of the lights can change as they move around; they may decay (and eventually vanish), pulse, or gradually increase in brightness 'till they explode! Just about every possible colour light that you can imagine has been reported, including ones that change colour as they drift along. However, the most frequently reported colours are blue, yellow/orange/amber, or white. More infrequently reported are the red or green lights. They may last for a few seconds to several minutes, although cases of about 30 seconds are most common. They may also be audible. The movement of these orbs varies greatly from sighting to sighting. Usually, they just drift about like vapour, but sometimes they may swoop from high in the sky back to the ground, skip about, jolt erratically in any direction, or any combination of these. There may also be any number of these occuring simultaneously. In general, the lights, when seen, usually 'haunt localized regions' (as most websites tend to say!), indicating possibly that they are terrain/geology related. The fact that so many sightings describe completely different types of 'behaviour' indicates that the sources for each of these sightings may not be the same in every case. However, the lights are almost invariably of similar sizes, tend not to go higher than 100m or so, and are usually of the amber drifting variety. The interesting fact is that they stay 'fairly' close to the ground (in about 80% of cases). This would appear to indicate that the origin of these lights is the ground itself. However, this doesn't account for the few cases where (so called) earth lights appear at extremely high altitudes (sightings by airline pilots for example). The lights are usually seen at night, although this may be due to the fact that any source of illumination is easier to see in the dark!!! There are a great number of sightings in deep forests or glades (especially of the so called 'will-o'-the-wisps', discussed next), which would tend to support this theory. Spooklights/Ghost lights. The term for earth lights generally used in America. Comes from the belief that the lights are ghosts. Nim-nim lights. The term used for earth lights in Australia, especially ones on Aboriginal lands. Comes from the name of the hotel where they were first observed by white men. Mystery lights. Term used for example by the Salt Lake Tribune a good way to name unidentified lights. From myst(ical)-covered. Cemetery lights. Mysterious lights seen in cemeteries. There is [one?] famous example. Nocturnal lights. A term used to describe the lights, as they often appear at night (and perhaps only at night in some places). Earthquake lights. Earth lights apparently generated by earthquakes (certainly seen at the time of earthquakes). List of synonyms for 'earth lights' and other unexplained lights. This is most probably the largest collection of synonyms for earth lights anywhere in existence. Certainly it is that I know about! Anyway, here goes: Earth lights, Spooklights, Ghost lights, Mystery lights, Nocturnal lights, Nim-nim lights, Cemetery lights, Treasure lights, Night suns, Foo fighters, Fiery dragons, Luminous vapours, Fiery coruscations, Burning shields, Fiery drakes, Devil's bonfires, Amber gamblers, Strange lightning, Mysterious flares, Ghostly lanterns, Bodhisattva lights, ORBS, Strange meteors, Fluffy fire, Unctuous vapour, Blazing stars, Phantom effluence, Luminous columns, Ghost beacons, Luminous Clouds, Flying flame, Sparkling fires, Flaming torch, Money lights, ALP, Geophysical meteors, Ghost beacon, Elf-fire, Ghostly lights, Rocket lightning, Fieballs, Earthquake lights. Will-o'-the-wisps, Ignis fatuus, Fox fire, Fata morgana, Foolish fire, Fairy lights, Corpse candles, Elf light, Will-with-the-wisp, Wisp, Friar's lantern, Meg of the lantern, The swamp ghost, Bramaracokh, Peggy with the lantern, Fairy death lantern, Jack-o'-lantern, Peg-a-lantern, Flickering fire, Spunkie, Death light, Walking fire, Fools fire, Lambent flame, Fetch lights, Dead man's candles, Walking fire, Fair maid of Ireland, Friar's lanthern, Friar Rush with a lantern, Ball of wildfire, Going fire, Fire of destiny, Robin Good-fellow, Hob-lantern, Fairy-lantern, Puck-lantern, Corpse light, Corposant, Corpo Santos, Dickepoten, Teine sionnii, Teine side, Fairy fire, Sean na gealaige, Jack of the bright light, Laim na lasoige, William with the little light, Feu follet, Irrlicht, Blud, Eskuddit', Fetch candle. (That's 95 found in total!) Others: Sprites, Blue jets, St. Elmo's fire, Leaders, Ball lightning. Thanks to R.C. for providing most of these synonyms!!! 2)Will-o'-the-wisps. Will-o'-the-wisps are small sources of light usually seen on swamps, marshes, mires or in deep woodland. They are different to earth lights in that they are usually small and no brighter than a torch. They are almost always extremely close to the ground as well (not going more than about 10ft in the air). They were feared in mediæval times because they often led travellers astray, as the follower would believe they were town lights, or lights of a rescue party. These lights have led to the phrase 'being pixie-led', and 'fairy lights', as it was often believed that they were mischievous fairies or pixies. They are sometimes found on cliffs as well, luring ships to their doom. These lights are almost always blue, for reasons unknown. They are heavily described in folklore not just for their 'mischeivous' properties, but for their mineral locating abilities as well. Miners in cornwall and the peak district believed that coal & silver etc. (and especially copper) could be located by the presence of a blue vapour above the site where they are to be found. This was believed up until about the 19th century, possibly even hanging on in the earlier parts of this (now last) century (20th). A good example of this fact can be observed in Bram Stokers 'Dracula'. Dracula is seen to be locating something at the beginning of the book by 'blue vapours'. The most common explanation for will-o'-the-wisps has always been ignited marsh gas, i.e. methane or phosphene. This has been disproved in every modern experiment, because these gases both produce a hot yellow flame (I should know, I almost 'ignited' a friends face whilst burning methane in a chemistry experiment once!) whereas will-o'-the-wisps are usually blue and cold. This points to a different type of chemical reaction, possibly the same type as used in bioluminescence. Will-o'-the-wisps will always be closely associated with earth lights, but aren't strictly the same thing. For this reason, I shall cover will-o'-the-wisps on this web site, but separately to earth lights! 3)St. Elmo's Fire. St.Elmo's fire is often confused with and/or offered as an explanation for both earth lights and will-o'-the-wisps. However, St. Elmos fire is not the same phenomenon as has been explained by science. It is an electrical luminescence often observed around masts or other high 'poles'. There are many forms of explained luminescence in the earths atmosphere, for example: aurorae, gengenschein, counterglow, astronomical objects, high altitude energy discharges and lightning. Although these aren't 'mysterious', I shall run through the explanations for these effects (concisely) and maybe how they were found out, because it may help us in our search for an explanation for the lights that we can't explain currently! 4)Lighting effects. Although we can explain the effect of lightning (just), there are still some lightning related phenomena that we don't understand. These are: Volcanic lightning, ball lightning, and sprites and blue jets. Volcanic lightning. This is simply lightning that occurs in volcanic eruptions. I shall provide some links to other sites that deal with this, as I know very little about it. Sprites/blue jets. These are discharges that occur above lightning storms, and were only discovered very recently. They HAVE been explained, but because the science is extremely new, it is still slightly vague. I shall discuss the theory briefly, and provide some links to sights that deal specifically with this subject. Ball lightning. This is the one that we are more interested in, because the effect observed is VERY similar to earth light sightings, with one minor difference. Ball lightning is, as the name suggests, balls of lightning produced in a thunderstorm. They usually occur after intense flashes of lightning, and are usually described as 'balls of fire' 1-100cm large, and not usually lasting more than a few seconds. These balls have very similar properties to earth lights, except ball lightning tends to explode rather violently. They may have exactly the same process going on behind them, except that the power involved in ball lightning is much greater. An example of ball lightning: 5)Earthquake lights. Earthquake lights were included in the synonyms for earth lights, but deserve their own explanation for reasons that shall become apparent. Earthquake lights are lights that are observed during earthquakes near the faults involved. What is interesting is they can take on exactly the same characteristics as earth lights, it's just that these are earth lights occuring during earthquakes! This is extremely interesting because the two major theories of earth lights both say that earth lights occur due to faults in the earths crust! Thus, you can see the relevance to earthquakes. It is apparent that as the vast majority of earth lights aren't observed during earthquakes (for example in Britain, where we very rarely even get earthquakes), however it should be noted that these theories have been put forward because it has been noticed that earth lights almost always occur where there is some type of fault (major or minor) in the ground nearby! This means that we (may) need just as many geologists as chemists/physicians working on an explanation for earth lights! Here's a link: Earthquake Lights. An eye-witness account of earthquake lights. As you can see, I am using the term 'earth lights' in two different contexts: 1)As a general term for many different types of unexplained lights, & 2)As a specific term for lights that have the properties listed above. As many of these lights seem related, I shall cover them all on this page, but I shall specialize in 'earth lights' and 'will-o'-the-wisps'. I shall therefore try to use the term 'earth lights' in it's specific sense only. ------------------------------------------------------ The Most Famous Cases. The three most famous cases of earth lights are: Hessdalen Valley Lights. Hessdalen Valley, Norway. The Longdendale Lights. At Glossop, Derbyshire, U.K. The Marfa Lights. Marfa, Texas, U.S.A. Hessdalen Valley Lights. Hessdalen is a 12km long valley in mid-Norway, about 30km NW of Røros. The phenomena of lights in the valley started about 1981. The area has become famous as one of the only decent places where proper scientific research has been carried out, by a team at Østfold College, led by Erling Strand MSc.EE. The lights started unexpectedly, and with no apparent reason. They appeared just about anywhere in the valley, including by peoples homes, although they were mainly to be seen just underneath the ridges of the nearby mountains. For reasons unknown, the lights generally occurred more at night time, and in winter (it should be noted that winters in Norway are usually mainly night time, so this would probably be the reason!). The lights that appeared seemed to take on many different shapes, including spheres and cones. They also had practically any colour, although the main ones observed were white/yellowish-white. There were two other distinct types of light recorded in the valley, mainly bluish 'flashes' and conglomerations of three or more lights stuck in a shape (usually a triangle) containing two yellow/white lights, and one red. The lights are continuing to appear, and as far as I know, the research is still going on. See for more info. The Longdendale Lights. The High Peak in Derbyshire gives rise to one of the greatest earth lights sites in the U.K.. The 'Longdendale Lights' have been witnessed for centuries in Longdendale valley itself (along which the A628 runs) and the surrounding area (E.g. Hayfield, a few miles south). Here there are crags and hills with names such as 'Shining Clough', and 'Lantern Pike'. In fact there are many tales of women who carry lantern in the night (for example 'Meg O' Th' Lantern', and 'Peggy Wit' Th' Lantern'). The lights are generally called 'Devil's Bonfires' by the people of the valley. In this name you can see the echoes of the old fear that the lights used to present to local folk. There is the well recounted tale of the lights seen by the Crowden Youth Hostel in 1982, which has even made T.V.! One local resident tells of how he's seen the lights in the area (which contains 'Shining Clough') over 30 times in the 16 years he's been living there. See this page for more info. The Marfa Lights. The Marfa lights are the most famous unexplained lights in America. Occuring in the Chianti mountains that surround the small town of Marfa, the lights attract thousands of tourists a year. Although they have been debunked by most scientists as car headlights on the nearby highway, I feel that this is a little harsh, as some of the photos clearly show the lights ascending vertically, and I have never seen a car do that! Whatever, the local people tend to account the lights to spirits of the dead, as is fairly common in america for some reason (indian graves, slaughtered railroad men, tragic family deaths, the list is endless!). Usually these lights are of the yellowish orb variety, the most common form of earth lights. The Marfa lights have actually been observed for over a hundred years now, and so the car-light theory goes even more out of the window, because there were only a handful of cars at around 1900. Still, the Marfa lights are well followed on the internet, and the best page would probably have to be the 'official' one at (see below). The 'official' Marfalights homepage. Plenty of information for tourists, and a video of the suspected lights. (

Copyright (C) 2001 Dr. Sten Odenwald