International Earthlight Alliance

The "Marfa Lights"

Many theories for Earthlights have been offered, ranging from highly sophisticated physics to the ridiculous. For instance, Stanford Linear Accelerator physicist Dr. David Fryberger suggests that a sub atomic particle called a “vorton” may be involved in the production of Earthlights.1  Some scientists think Earthlights are a form of ball lightning, others have proposed they are related to piezoelectric effects of tectonic strain, ignited swamp gas, various forms of mirages caused by weather conditions, stars, planets, and car headlights. Among the more extreme explanations, are glowing bunnies that have run through phosphorescent mineral deposits. The superstitious believe they are souls or ghosts of Indians, railroad workers, or even the devil. How valid are these theories and beliefs? How do we evaluate their validity?

Although there has been some scientific effort to solve the Earthlight mystery, the most vocal, and visible, participants of the Earthlight debate seem to be polarized between superstition and skepticism. The superstitious wish the phenomena to remain a mystery, while skeptics seem invested in proving the phenomena do not exist at all. These approaches are both founded on a priori opinions, trying to fit facts into preconceived notions or beliefs. This is not a good way to determine the truth. How can we see through the fog and determine if a theory is likely correct, and test the logic of a skeptic’s preconceived ideas?

Using a well known Earthlight area, Marfa, Texas, as an example may provide some “enlightenment” to the determination. People from all over the world come to view the lights at a specially-built viewing area. Local folklore says the lights are the ghost of an executed Indian Chief. Many residents of the Marfa area are superstitious about the lights. Some professors at the local Sul Ross University have attempted study and do triangulations of the lights with mixed results. Rumor has it local academicians are reluctant to discuss their findings for fear of ridicule from their peers. It is most unfortunate that peer pressure and vocal skeptics are capable of intimidating researchers to conceal the few serious efforts and their results.

IEA proposes that lights at well known Earthlight areas are likely to be a mixture of manmade, natural artifact, and genuine Earthlights. For example at Marfa, Texas, it is likely that many of the lights witnessed at the Marfa viewing area are car headlights descending the Chinati mountain summit on Highway 67. Because the mountain cannot be seen at night in the darkness, the car headlights appear to be suspended in mid-air, blinking off and on, moving, and disappearing. Actually, close examination of videos taken by IEA researchers ( Example), shows a distinct pattern of the light movements. The blinking and disappearing of the lights are caused by cars traveling over twists and dips in the highway momentarily pointing their headlights at, or sweeping their headlights past, the Marfa Lights viewing area 25 miles away. But wait! It is a mistake to claim that car headlights are “the only” explanation for the Marfa Lights. They explain some of the observations but not all.

Some skeptics mistakenly claim that because a valid explanation exists for some of the observations, that it explains all of the observations. Skeptics have ignored other compelling facts such as that the lights appear in areas other than along highway 67. Lights appear in the sky and low on the ground in all directions, and there have been many close up eyewitness encounters including some lights following cars, light aircraft, and even military aircraft. Also commonly overlooked is the fact that reports of lights in the Marfa area date back hundreds of years, long before the automobile or even electricity was invented. Legends date back to Native American lore, surveyors, and prospectors in the area. Some eyewitnesses observed them at very close distances, reporting details such as dust-like disintegrations directly overhead.

Additionally, many of the mechanisms offered for Earthlights simply do not make sense considering a comprehensive overview of the data. Cars on a mountain road do not explain brightly scintillating lights larger and brighter than stars, seen and photographed above the horizon on rainy nights, or below the horizon, close to the ground in directions where roads do not exist. Possibly, some of these Marfa lights may be distant lights reflected from over the horizon. Speculations have been made that the lights are nighttime Fata Morgana (vertically elongated over the horizon image) or Novaya Zemlya mirages (over the horizon images from as much as hundreds of miles away). Certainly, inversion layer mirages and temperature gradient mirages may be a possible explanation for some of the observations. The Marfa area may be subject to weather conditions favorable for atmospheric anomalies that create such mirages. However, these mirages usually have a narrow viewing angle of about a half degree in width (about the size of the sun). In many but not all cases, lights have been triangulated by widely separated observers. Most mirages are from objects that are relatively close, located about a quarter mile to three miles away. Marfa lights may appear on the ground at close range to observers and move rapidly beyond speeds of which reflected cars or trains at this distance are capable. In many cases, lights reveal their proximity by illuminating the ground below them. Additionally, lights appear in weather conditions not conducive to inversion layers such as rain and fog. Lights have even been reported in severe snow storms.

Other possibly valid explanations have been offered such as stars and planets mistaken for Earthlights. Such reports can easily be evaluated by consulting an ephemeris or using astronomical software. Spectra can be compared. It is also true that there are several ranch lights in the Marfa area (and other Earthlight areas), and atmospheric aberrations may cause these manmade lights to scintillate or sparkle. Airplanes are another source of confusion but they too are usually easily identified. By law, airplanes must have blinking strobe lights, port and starboard red and green wingtip lights as well as top and belly lights that blink once per second setting them apart from the constantly glowing objects in question. Airplanes are easy to identify in film and video images though often the naked eye sees only brighter aircraft landing lights.

In order to study the Earthlight phenomenon it is mandatory to accurately determine the likely cause of each light observation. Indeed, most of the lights will be explained by one or more of the above theories, or explanations for ordinary mechanisms. Although a combination of several of the theories above may account for a large portion of the light observations at Marfa and elsewhere, some unexplainable observations remain that are unaccounted for by any of the ordinary explanations.

IEA’s task is to discriminate between artifact lights (manmade or natural) and unexplained lights, then study the unexplained ones. On missions to Earthlight locations, IEA scientists have documented lights that have not been satisfactorily explained by proposed theories or known artifacts. Rather than assert that known theories should explain all of the light appearances, IEA uses theories in a different way. IEA uses theory to identify possible known causes of light observations in order to cull genuine anomalies from the explainable. By carefully categorizing each light observation true anomalies can be identified. By researching the properties of the unidentified lights, new discoveries may be made.

IEA has developed a detailed observation protocol for those of you who would like to do your own earthlight research. The protocol is the result of several years of experience (and some mistakes that we learned from). The protocol gives information, guidelines, equipment needed, camera settings, checklists, and suggestions for procedures to help insure that you will succeed in the complex process of making valid earthlight observations. The protocol can be found in the members only section. You need to be an IEA member to access the members only area. Join now!

Page by Marsha Hancock Adams March 1, 2004


1   David Fryberger; “A Model for ball lightning”; Ostfold College Report 1997:5/Part 1, ISSN 08058164,ISBN 82-7825-035-9, 1997



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