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Lights of Marfa Texas


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#1 stereologist

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Posted 12 March 2009 - 08:31 PM

Almost 20 years ago I was driving through west Texas on the way to Bing Bend. I came upon the town of Marfa and as soon as I saw the sign my mind started buzzing with, "where have I heard that before?" Well it turns out that Marfa is famous for the mystery lights.

The night I drove by town there was a pull out outside of the town where a large number of people were gathered to observe the lights. Now notice I said observe, not wait for the lights. Sure enough the desert was full of lights that people were pointing to and labeling mysterious.

I had already recalled the story of the lights before I saw the turn out. My recollection is that the mystery lights were observed back in the 1800s or maybe earlier. My personal feeling is that there is possibly something interesting to learn here. Unfortunately, any lights in the desert are now labeled as mysterious.

The evening I stopped to see the lights I was quickly shown a number of lights out in the desert and told that the lights were in full display again. I happened to have a nice pair of binoculars in the car and pulled them out. The mysterious white lights in the desert were seen to be paired white lights followed by paired red lights. I offered to let others observe this, but was told that I was wrong. Lights were seen to rise intothe sky in the distance. I looked there as well and saw the clear outline of a distant mountain and all of the lights following each other up and down the same line on that mountain. I suggested a road, but was told no mountain and no road. I was told that this was all empty desert wilderness with no people in it, just mysterious lights.

So maybe there are mysterious lights out in the desert by Marfa. Could be, but with all of the whoopla over cars in the desert and the odd denial of the obvious that these were cars and roads out there the possible of an interesting search for the real mystery lights is drowned in the noise of bad observations.

If others have been to Marfa I'd like to hear what they have to think about the lights.
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#2 CraigD

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Posted 13 March 2009 - 08:13 AM

Good account, stereologist. :) I’ve never been to Marfa, but if I ever do visit, I’ll make a point of visiting after dark to have a look at the lights.

Your conclusion is the same as that of a 2005 report of a 5 day series of observations/experiments made by a team of 12 members of the UTD chapter of the SPS, which went the additional step of flashing (turning off and on) the headlights of a car parked on the side of highway 67 and noting that a pair of “mystery lights” observed from the viewing area flashed at the same moment. IMHO, the SPS study, and accounts like your, prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the mystery lights are from vehicles on the highway.

It’s telling that, despite anecdotal claims of 19th century “mystery lights” near Marfa (eg: this TSHA article), no published account prior to 1957, postdating modern vehicles driving on HW 67. Also telling is that an Army air base was at this site from 1942 to 1947, but its personnel reported no mystery lights.

Your account of refusal by other visitors to view the lights through binoculars, or acknowledge the presence of a road clearly marked on maps, appears not atypical, though it does tend to lower ones opinion of ones fellow humans. :) I console myself by reasoning that visitors to the Marfa Mystery Lights viewing area aren’t a representative sample of humanity, but mostly overly credulous and enthusiastic repeat visitors, whereas more reasonable people visit infrequently or not at all. That the lights are a minor tourist attraction and boon for local business also figure into the popularity of the myth that they are unexplained.

#3 lemit

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 02:18 AM

I miissed this earlier, but came across it now while I was looking for something else.

I've read about the Marfa lights, of course, since I really try to keep up on pseudoscience. Still, the explanation given here by Stereologist is a wonderful one. Perspectives get really strange in the absence of points of reference. Here, next to the foothills, there seem to be lights in the sky all the time. From a distance, they move erratically. When you get closer, they stop moving. When you get really close, they are houses 1000 to 2000 feet above the level at which you are watching them, and the movement has been your own.

I wanted to bump this up into people's consciousness for a little while.

--lemit

#4 Qfwfq

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 03:49 AM

...and the movement has been your own.

Actually the movement might also be due to changes in refraction through air, when distance is sufficient. :scratchchin:

In the Marfa case, refraction could be a key factor. A mirage, in effect, which could cause a mismatch with how folks see the lights compared to what would be visible without considering refractive effects; this might explain the refusal of those who know the area, to accept that explanation and perhaps even the apparent mountain which maybe isn't a true morphologic fact. If they say there's no mountain, perhaps there is no mountain and maybe the road really is further than the light appear to be so "no road" was just how they put it.

#5 lemit

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 04:14 AM

Actually the movement might also be due to changes in refraction through air, when distance is sufficient. :)

In the Marfa case, refraction could be a key factor. A mirage, in effect, which could cause a mismatch with how folks see the lights compared to what would be visible without considering refractive effects; this might explain the refusal of those who know the area, to accept that explanation and perhaps even the apparent mountain which maybe isn't a true morphologic fact. If they say there's no mountain, perhaps there is no mountain and maybe the road really is further than the light appear to be so "no road" was just how they put it.


Right. Thanks for the assist on that.

--lemit