What are the theories about the lights?


1... "I still don't know precisely what the lights are, but I do have theory," says Kirby. "I believe the Marfa Lights are some type of natural phenomenon, just as St. Elmo's fire is a natural phenomenon. The real mystery about the Marfa Lights is that they occur so often. The Big Bend country harbors lots of mysteries, and these lights are just one of them," he says. Scientific theories about the lights exist, of course. Once concept describes the lights as an atmospheric phenomenon that resembles a mirage, wherein, under certain atmospheric conditions, headlight beams or even the lights from stars just over the horizon bend back toward earth and appear to move around and change. Such explanations don't excite old-timers like Hallie Stillwell. (http://www.urbanlegends.com/science/marfa_lights.html)

2... 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.( http://www.spartechsoftware.com/dimensions/mystical/MarfaLights.htm)

3... Atmospheric tunneling. One possible explanation submitted 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'.( http://www.spartechsoftware.com/dimensions/mystical/MarfaLights.htm)

4... Planets and Stars. Another possible source of the lights would be planets and stars. This is often discounted due to the erratic movement of the Marfa Lights relative to the static position of the planets. But there is one advantage to this theory over the automobile theory - the Marfa Lights have been around a lot longer than the appearance of automobiles... .( http://www.spartechsoftware.com/dimensions/mystical/MarfaLights.htm)

5... Glowing Jackrabbits. There's even the glowing jackrabbit explanation. Under that theory, the jackrabbits race across the desert with a coating of phosphorescent dust or glow worms clinging to their hides. In the absence of a more definitive explanation, legend and folklore have been known to sprout like tumbleweeds. Fortunately, several of these theories can be discounted because they don't apply to the West Texas region. For instance, while jackrabbits are abundant, phosphorous is not, and volcanic activity in the area ceased about 30 million years ago. Also, although jackrabbits are known for their speed, they are not known to fly or outrun cars, and both pilots and motorists have reported being chased by the lights.( http://www.theoutlaws.com/marfa.htm)

6... Car Headlights. 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. (http://www.mysterylights.com/cases/)

7... Ghosts. The Apache Indians of years past believed the eerie lights were stars dropping to earth. Some romantics describe the lights as the torches of deceased lovers wandering endlessly in search of one another. (Louise Lowry, http://www.worldofthestrange.com/Archives/031599.htm)

8... UFOs. What about aliens or UFOs in the area? Too hard to buy? (Louise Lowry, http://www.worldofthestrange.com/Archives/031599.htm)

9... Ranch Lights. How about high pressure ranch lights, St. Elmo's fire, or car headlights heading down nearby roads or highways. Of course, that doesn't explain why the lights have been around since way before electricity or cars were part of the landscape. (Louise Lowry, http://www.worldofthestrange.com/Archives/031599.htm)

10... Optical Illusion. Some Theories Well, an ophthalmologist recently visiting a local ranch had a theory behind that. He explained the phenomenon as a visual trick caused by the eye's refraction. Since no one's refraction is the same, no one would see the same thing. He said it was like seeing a mirage. . . . Two people see the same mirage of a patch of water, one says it's 2 inches deep, the other is certain it is 2 feet deep. In the end, it's all just a mirage. Of course, that doesn't quite explain what's causing the actual mirage now does it? (Louise Lowry, http://www.worldofthestrange.com/Archives/031599.htm)

11...Car Lights. Physicist Hal Puthoff, also an ICRL member, joined this expedition. We were eventually able to dismiss a number of luminous effects popularly assumed to be "Marfa Lights": occasional mirage effects can raise lights normally hidden over the horizon into visibility, sometime reproducing the same lights in tiers, and lights of vehicles 30 miles or more away on the Marfa-Presidio road are so distorted that they can appear anomalous. We also determined that lights on vehicles negotiating rough tracks belonging to isolated ranches on the undulating desert- scrub area known as Mitchell Flat can look like mysterious lights skimming the ground, fusing and parting. Nevertheless, interviews with local witnesses convinced us that genuine anomalous lights probably did sporadically appear in the vast region. (http://www.acemake.com/PaulDevereux/earthlights.html)

12...Techtonic Strain Theory and Earthquake lights

13... St. Elmo's Fire Why? The lights have been described as far-off and fiery, like the well-known phenomenon seen by sailors. Why not? They're not related to electrical storms. (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

14... Swamp gas Why? The same idea is used to explain mysterious lights in swampy areas, including the Big Thicket of East Texas. Why not? As famed West Texan Hallie Stillwell said, "There hasn't been a swamp in West Texas for a million years." (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

15... Temperature inversion Why? A little more scientific, this one has to do with the harsh, dry climate on the lower side of the Chianti Mountains mixing with the cooler air of the Marfa plateau. Why not? Different climates bump heads all over West Texas, the result of which is usually just wind. (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

16... Underground phosphorescent gases Why? The area between Marfa and Alpine was once a hotbed of volcanic activity. There's still the occasional rumbling, too, most recently a .5 earthquake in 1995, before which sightings were said to be heavy. Why not? Nobody has ever found the source of such gases. (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

17... Light bouncing off minerals Why? Another volcanic idea. It could be moonlight bouncing off something in the ground. Or reflection from headlights. Why not? Again, nobody has spotted such minerals. (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

18... Headlights Why? This is the conclusion of most first-time viewers and skeptics. There's little question that at least some of what people see is movement on U.S. 67, running perpendicular to the U.S. 90 viewing area. Also, the lights are more commonly seen just after dark and on weekends (when there are more drivers). Why not? Believers have punched many holes in this one. It doesn't explain the many sightings before anyone in West Texas had a car. Likewise, it doesn't account for the spiraling, rapid, stop-and-go movements or the changes in color and brightness they swear to. More practical is reverse opinion -- that you can't see U.S. 90 headlights from anywhere on U.S. 67 (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

19... Scientific gumbo Why? Take any or all of the more scientific theories here, add other variables such as atmospheric conditions, bent light, desert plantlife or whatever, and you might just explain the mystery. Why not? With so many scientists, including ones at both the nearby McDonald Observatory and Sul Ross University, shouldn't somebody be able to come up with the right recipe? (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

20... UFOs Why? It would help explain the unusual movements the lights are said to make, among other things. Why not? Other than the lights, the area hasn't had many other UFO-like sightings. (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

21... Neon jack rabbits Why? No, really. This one's tied in with the phosphorescent gases theory (see #10). The rabbits might be rubbing up against the sources of these gases or eating plants grown directly over gas pockets. When they get out to forage each night, aglow like fireflies, a bunch of silly humans watch them with glee from a roadside rest area. Why not? The lights are usually spotted mid-air. And they don't hop. (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

22... Atomic experiments Why? The area where the lights are believed to originate, Mitchell Flat, housed an Air Force Base during World War II. Maybe there was some accident or covered-up experiment. Why not? There's no record of any atomic activity at the base. (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)


23... Ghosts of Hitler and German POWs Why? Also tied to the Air Force Base. Adolph was supposedly freeing his boys and taking them to Mexico. Why not? There's no record of prisoners at the base. That, and a million other reasons. (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

24... Apache ghosts Why? Based on the legend of Alaste, the area's last Apache chief. He was tricked into a treaty with the Mexicans and cut off from his tribe, which was then slaughtered. The lights are the tribe's ghosts signaling him with campfires. Why not? Even if you believe in ghosts, the legend has never been confirmed. (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

25... The gold of Pancho Villa Why? The notorious revolutionary/ bandit did indeed loot from the area. Why not? He didn't loot that much. (http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/xl/features/1999/10/28marfamain_002.html)

26... Moon Glints. What is responsible for this startling phenomenon? Scientists have long investigated these luminous energy spots. Discounted theories include: mirages, swamp gas, temperature inversion, St. Elmo's Fire; some even suggested the lights were caused by the moon's reflection on an undiscovered mica vein! Regardless what may cause these manifestation that exist to this very day, things subtly changed in Marfa as regards these lights shortly after James Dean died.( http://our.tentativetimes.net/dean/marflite.html)

27... Laser fusion device. One of the weirdest theories is that an ultrasecret "nuclear laser fusion device" went awry in 1943 and got lost in space and time. (Gary Cartwright. Texas Monthly. http://www.texasmonthly.com/ranch/readme/marfa.php)

28.... Mirage. More recently, astronomers from the McDonald Observatory have speculated that the lights are caused by the Novaya Zemlya effect, in which light beams are bent by adjacent layers of air and carried over great distances. The source could be a faraway car or the reading lamp from a flying saucer, for example. (Gary Cartwright. Texas Monthly. http://www.texasmonthly.com/ranch/readme/marfa.php)



Copyright (C) 2001 Dr. Sten Odenwald