Marfa Lights

Marfa lights

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The “Marfa Lights” label within this image shows where Marfa lights can be seen.

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. They have gained some fame as onlookers have ascribed them to paranormal phenomena such as ghosts, UFOs, or will-o’- the-wisp, etc. However, scientific research suggests that most, if not all, are atmospheric reflections of automobile headlights and campfires. Overview

According to Judith Brueske, “The ‘Marfa Lights of west Texas have been called many names over the years, such as ghost lights, weird lights, mystery lights, or Chinati lights. The favorite place from which to view the lights is a widened shoulder on Highway 90 about nine miles east of Marfa…at this ‘official Marfa Lights viewing site’. The lights are most often reported as rather distant bright lights distinguishable from ranch lights and automobile headlights on Highway 67 (between Marfa and Presidio, to the south) primarily by their aberrant movements.”[2]

Robert and Judy’s Wagers define “Classic Marfa Lights” as being seen south-southwest of the Marfa Lights Viewing Center (MLVC). They define the left margin of the viewing area as being aligned along the Big Bend Telephone Company tower as viewed from the MLVC, and the right margin defined by  Chinati Peak as viewed from the MLVC.[3]

Referring to the Marfa Lights View Park east of Marfa, James Bunnell states, “you might just see mysterious orbs of light suddenly appear above the desert foliage. These balls of light may remain stationary as they pulse on and off with intensity varying from dim to almost blinding brilliance. Then again, these ghostly lights may dart across the desert…or perform splits and mergers. Light colors are usually yellow-orange but other hues, including green, blue and red are also seen. Marfa Mystery Lights (MLS) usually fly above desert vegetation but below background mesas.”[4]


The first published account of the lights appeared in the July 1957 issue of Coronet magazine.[5][6] In 1976, Elton Miles’ Tales of the Big Bend included stories dating to the 19th century, and a photograph of the Marfa lights taken by a local rancher.[3]:25

The earliest anecdote commonly cited as an observation of the Marfa lights is that of the cowboy Robert Reed Ellison in March 1883. This was while he was herding cattle through the  Paisano Pass southwest across the Marfa plain. The lights were next reported in 1885 by Joe and Anne Humphreys. Both stories appear in Cecilia Thompson’s book History of Marfa and Presidio County, Texas 1535-1946.[3]:21–22

Bunnell lists 34 Marfa lights sightings from 1945 through 2008. Monitoring stations were put in place starting in 2003. He has identified “an average of 9.5 MLS on 5.25 nights per year”, but thinks the monitoring stations may only be finding half of the Marfa lights in Mitchell Flat.[4]:261


Atmospheric phenomena

Skeptic Brian Dunning notes that the designated “View Park” for the lights, 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 unusual phenomena would have remained unobserved and unmentioned. According to Dunning, the dominant explanation is that the lights are a sort of mirage caused by sharp temperature gradients between cold and warm layers of air.[7] Marfa is located at an altitude of 4,688 ft (1,429 m) above sea level, and temperature differentials of 40–50 °F (22–28 °C) between high and low temperatures are quite common.

Car lights

In May 2004, a group from the  Society of Physics Students at the  University of Texas at Dallas spent four days investigating and recording lights observed southwest of the view park using traffic volume-monitoring equipment, video cameras, binoculars, and chase cars. Their report made the following conclusions:[8]

  • U.S. Highway 67 is visible from the Marfa lights viewing location.
  • The frequency of lights southwest of the view park correlates with the frequency of vehicle traffic on U.S. 67.
  • The motion of the observed lights was in a straight line, corresponding to U.S. 67.
  • When the group parked a vehicle on U.S. 67 and flashed its headlights, this was visible at the view park and appeared to be a Marfa light.
  • A car passing the parked vehicle appeared as one Marfa light passing another at the view park.

They came to the conclusion that all of the lights observed over a four-night period southwest of the view park could be reliably attributed to automobile headlights traveling along U.S. 67 between Marfa and Presidio, Texas.

Spectroscopic analysis

For 20 nights in May 2008, scientists from Texas State University used spectroscopy equipment to observe lights from the Marfa lights viewing station. They recorded a number of lights that “could have been mistaken for lights of unknown origin” but, in each case, the movements of the lights and the data from their equipment could be easily explained as automobile headlights or small fires.[9]


  1. Jump up^ “US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990”.  United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  2. Jump up^ Brueske, Judith (1989). The Marfa Lights. Ocotillo Enterprises. p. 7.
  3. Jump up to:a b c Wagers, Robert (2012). Mysteries of the Marfa Lights Revealed. R&J Books Unique. pp. 75–79. ISBN9780988827127.
  4. Jump up to a b Bunnell, James (2009). Hunting Marfa Lights. Lacey Publishing Company. pp. 14–15. ISBN9780970924940.
  5. Jump up^ Moran, Paul (July 1957). “The Mystery of the Texas Ghost Light”. Coronet42 (3).
  6. Jump up^ Brian Haughton (August 2011).  Famous Ghost Stories: Legends and Lore. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 157–. ISBN 978-1-4488-4840-9.
  7. Jump up^ Dunning, Brian (11 April 2007).  “Skeptoid #38: The Marfa Lights: A Real American Mystery: What is the cause of the mysterious ghost lights outside Marfa, Texas?”.  Skeptoid. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  8. Jump up^ Stolyarov, Alexander; Jeff Klenzing; Patrick Roddy; R.A. Heelis (2004). “An Experimental Analysis of the Marfa Lights” (PDF). The Society of Physics Students at the University of Dallas. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 June 2007. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  9. Jump up^ Spectroscopy applied to observations of terrestrial light sources of uncertain origin Karl D. Stephan et. al, 2009. American Journal of Physics

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