The Marfa Lights
Brightly Glowing Basketball-sized Spheres Floating Above the Ground

Marfa Lights
Brightly Glowing Basketball-sized Spheres Floating Above the Ground

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 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 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 sightings.

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 round.

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 owners.

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 ground.

"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.

The 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 quite common.

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.