Things to do.

 At Home:

1...Find out who authored the story of Robert Ellison that appears in Cecilia Thompson's 'History of Marfa and Presidio County. Did it come from Elton Miles at Sul Ross in his 1976 book, 'Tales from the Big Bend?. Did it come from the 1933 Masters Thesis 'History of Presidio County' by John Ernest Gregg? Did they get it from 'the Lee Pumpleys' (Evelyn Ellison b. 1898?) who William Syers in his 1985 book Ghost Stories from Texas' says was the daughter of Robert Ellison?

2...What is the history of Marfa from 1900-1940, and does this include more info about the lights? There seems to be a huge gap in the accounts between the time of the air base in 1943-45 and the apparent recollections of Hallie Stillwell in ca 1916. Surely there must be some written accounts during this period?

3...Get a topographic map of the area from USGS, rather than piece one together, so that the map metric is absolutely accurate. Identify the LOS that connects the Viewing Area and the sightings using the pictures I have.

4...I need to take another crack at comparing the scattered photos I have against landmarks on maps. Sort out all of the places where the lights have been reported.

5...Are there any reports of the lights seen between 1900-1955?

6...Confirm the report that James Dean viewed them in 1954 while shooting 'Giant'.

7...Who owns the land in the viewing area?

8...What are the ranch boundaries?

9...What roads are off limits?

10...When were the roads put in, and when did the first cars come...especially along Highway 67?

11...Could stars on the horizon really be involved? Use the web photos to identify stars.

12...Track down the article in Skeptical Inquirer etc magazines at the Library of Congress. Big Bend Quarterly?



Suppose I visit Marfa one day. What would I do?


1...To eliminate the possibility of cars on dirt roads crossing the field of view (FOV) place thin trip wires across the roadways near sunset. If they are broken the next day...or later in the evening...then the viewing area was compromized by car traffic. This is a long-shot.

2..Place a conceiled video camera near Highway 67, facing the Viewing Area direction, on Highway 67 at some crucil location such as where the LOS from the Viewing area connects with Chinati Peak and crosses Highway 67. Then from the Viewing area, during the next 2 hours after sunset, count (record times for) the number of lights that cross this LOS, and compare with the 'traffic' recorded by the camera. I should see the same lights as the camera if car traffic is involved. Put it near the turn off for Highway 158 which doubles back across the viewing area going southbound to catch any cars making the turn. This is also a long shot.

3...Do a parallax study, by placing the video camera 1/2 miles from the Viewing Area, and recording the lights at specific times with a still camera at the Viewing Area. Coordinate the time keeping so that I can extract the images from the video stream corresponding to the still images. Create the appropriate simultaneous parallax pairs from this. This will tell me how far off the lights are. A 57.4x .5/15= 2 degree shift at 15 miles (4x moon diameter) requires a baseline of 1/2 mile on Highway 90. This is important to do right to triangulate the origin positions. Roadways vs else?

4...Do a careful photometric study of how bright the lights are compared to stars. Build a simple photometer. Do the lights have a flatter 'luminosity function' than car lights would? Careful brightness measurements should tell whether the lights follow an inverse-square law or not, especially with the parallax information. This is important.

5...Locate all of the artificial lights in the viewing area. This is a constant source of confusion to viewers. This has to be nailed down in detail before viewing the lights.

6...Can you really see car lights from 15+ miles away? This is improbable based on air travel measurements at night. On Highway 90 or 67, measure the brightness of on-coming cars by timing when I can first see them, how long it takes for them to pass me, and estimating their brightness along the way using stars. This is important. If I can prove car lights do weird things optically, then all else is up for grabs.

7...Measure the road and air temperature every 2 hours from sunset to midnight on highway 67 and near the Viewing Area. Temperature gradients drive changes in refraction. Studying car lights and photoing them for refraction effects is probably more direct.

8...Study car lights and roadway mirages. Perhaps do this photographically or telescopically to build up an atlas of characteristic types of morphologies.

9...Calibrate my video camera, and see if I can use it to image Marfa Lights. Can I see 3-4th magnitude stars?

10...Consider what kind of telescopic observation I can do? Need a telephoto lens.

11...Is the light in any way polarized? A simple polarizing filter will tell. This would be helpful.

12...Can I make a simple spectroscope with a diffraction grating? This will have to use my binoculars to gather enough light.

13...To track the car traffic on Highway 67, place a piece of tubing across the road way in the northbound lane. When it is compressed, it activates a switch that records a tick mark on a moving piece of paper. Put this on the LOS between the Viewing Area and Chinati Peak.

14...When stars set on the horizon, is there evidence of severe atmospheric refraction that could make stars look like the Lights, especially prior to the introduction of cars in ca 1930's?

Copyright (C) 2001 Dr. Sten Odenwald