Brightly Glowing Basketball-sized Spheres Floating Above the Ground
The Marfa lights, also known as the Marfa ghost lights, have been
observed near U.S. Route 67 on Mitchell Flat east of Marfa, Texas, in
the United States.
The first published account of the lights appeared in the July 1957 issue of Coronet Magazine, the sole source for anecdotal claims that the lights date back to the 19th century.
Reports often describe brightly glowing basketball-sized spheres floating above the ground, or sometimes high in the air. Colors are usually described as white, yellow, orange or red, but green and blue are sometimes reported.
The balls are said to hover at about shoulder height, or to move laterally at low speeds, or sometimes, to shoot around rapidly in any direction.
They often appear in pairs or groups, according to reports, to divide into pairs or merge together, to disappear and reappear, and sometimes to move in seemingly regular patterns. Their sizes are typically said to resemble soccer balls or basketballs.
The lights have been attributed to paranormal
phenomenon but research suggests that most if not all are atmospheric
reflections of automobile headlights and campfires.
Some believe the source is static electricity or swamp gas.
Sightings are reported occasionally and unpredictably, perhaps 10 to 20
times a year. There are no reliable reports of daytime
According to the people who claim to have seen the lights,
they may appear at any time of night, typically south of U.S. Route 90
and east of U.S. Route 67, five to fifteen miles southeast of Marfa, at
unpredictable directions and apparent distances. They can persist from a
fraction of a second to several hours.
There is evidently no connection between appearances of the Marfa lights
and anything else besides nighttime hours. They appear in all seasons
of the year and in any weather, seemingly uninfluenced by such factors.
They sometimes have been observed during late dusk and early dawn, when
the landscape is dimly illuminated. They are said to be viewable year
It is extremely difficult to approach an ongoing display of the
Marfa lights, mainly due to the dangerous terrain of Mitchell Flat.
Also, all of the land where the Marfa lights are observed is private
property, and access is prohibited without explicit permission from the
The state notes the lights in travel maps, the city has erected a
viewing platform, and the Marfa Chamber of Commerce promotes the
peculiar lights. The weekend-long Marfa Lights Festival is held
annually in the city's downtown.
The lights were the subject of a segment on the TV series Unsolved
Mysteries. Elderly local resident Julia Plumbley discusses the sighting
her father Robert Ellison reported in the early 20th century. Ellison
and a fellow rancher witnessed the lights and initially assumed them to
be Apache campfires, but the fires continued to be seen for weeks on
end, and beyond.
Another local resident, Hallie Stillwell, told of
coming to Marfa in 1916 on business with some family members and was
riding near town in a car when a family member pointed out the lights.
The group observed them.
Stillwell recalled "We were just visiting and
talking, and all of the sudden we saw lights over on the Chinati
Mountains. It couldn't be any kind of car lights. And we first thought
probably it was a campfire of Indians or Mexicans, or ranchers. But it
didn't act like a campfire at all."
The reenactment segment shows a young
Stillwell commenting on the lights moving around and floating above the
"They were peculiar and I'd never seen anything like them
before. And of course none of us knew anything about it, we were not
scientists or anything like that, so we said 'Well, it couldn't be
anything but a ghost, it's just ghost lights.' And from then on we
mentioned them as ghost lights."
The segment further tells of the lights
being seen again in 1943 near Marfa's army air base. Witness Fritz Kahl
stated in interview, When we saw the Marfa lights the first time there
was no vehicular traffic at night. Fuel was rationed, lights were a
phenomena in themselves in those days because there were no lights. When
the moon is out, it's beautiful.
When the moon is not out its so dark
it's . . . awesome. We saw something that was totally foreign to
anything in and around the airbase. When we did see the lights we were
very curious and we inquired in the village of Marfa about these strange
things, and yeah, sure, 'we've got little lights, what else?'.
The Marfa Lights - Sightings
Skeptics discount paranormal sources for the lights, attributing them to
mistaken sightings of ordinary nighttime lights, such as distant
vehicle lights, ranch lights, or astronomical objects.
Critics also note
that the designated "View Park," a roadside park on the south side of
U.S. Route 90 about 9 miles (14 km) east of Marfa, is located at the
site of Marfa Army Airfield, where tens of thousands of personnel were
stationed between 1942 and 1947, training American and Allied pilots.
This massive field was then used for years as a regional airport, with
daily airline service.
Between Marfa AAF and its satellite fields — each
constantly patrolled by sentries — they consider it unlikely that any
actual phenomena would have remained unobserved and unmentioned.
dominant skeptical explanation seems to be that the lights are a sort of
mirage caused by sharp temperature gradients between cold and warm
layers of air. Marfa is located at an altitude of 4,688 feet (1,429 m)
above sea level, and temperature differentials of 50–60 degrees
Fahrenheit (28–33 degrees Celsius) between high and low temperature are
The four-night effort by UT Dallas students focused on automobile lights and reached a conclusion that
vehicle lights can be seen from the View Park. The Aerial Hyperspectral
and Reflection Study also focused for one night on reflected
vehicle lights on Highway 67.
These studies make the case that car
lights can be seen from the View Park and they do look mysterious to
many View Park visitors. It is easily shown that automobile headlights
are very visible over great distances, and many Marfa lights
observations can be dismissed as auto headlights.
The complete lack of
reports from the tens of thousands of potential observers at Marfa AAF
and satellite fields is in keeping with theories that suggests the
lights are man-made light sources.