History

The Marfa Lights: A Far West Texas Spectral Light Phenomenon Yet Unsolved

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They dance in the night, flicker, and sometimes they flash different colors, and more often than not, they have fascinated bright minds for many a year. But the fabled Marfa Lights have yet to be explained. Thousands of people have witnessed them, and just as many have speculated as to their source. That much or more will continue to.

The Marfa Lights: A Far West Texas Spectral Light Phenomenon Yet Unsolved

Photo: Flickr/Nicolas Henderson

Situated on the edge of the old Marfa Army Air Field is the viewing site designed for folks to look out into the distance to potentially witness this unexplained display. You wouldn’t be alone if you made the trek. On any given evening, you’ll find a number of people waiting hopefully to see this phenomenon, chatting amongst themselves, quietly keeping vigil. As the spectacle seems to appear at random, sometimes these would-be viewers are waiting in vain. The first sightings of these spectral-like lights were reported in the 1800s. Since then, a number of possible explanations have come forward, ranging from atmospheric disturbances to phosphorescent wildlife. Some are clearly grasping at straws, but undoubtedly, the Marfa Lights have entranced a great number of people.

The Marfa Lights: A Far West Texas Spectral Light Phenomenon Yet Unsolved
Photo: Facebook/Linda Stuart Bastrop County Texas Realtor

Eluding scientific explanation since their first reported sightings, many viewers claim to have witnessed them up close in the form of one or more lights the size of basketballs, in the tone of red, yellow or blue colors. Others say they’ve seen a single, bright light from afar. And there are those for whom the thought that a logical explanation truly does exist for these West Texas lights, and continue the search for their source in a quest of sorts. In 1982, Kirby Warnock wrote a Marfa Lights feature article for the in-flight magazine of Southwest Airlines. Later, he reprinted the article in his first Big Bend Quarterly publication in 1988. From there, a research assistant who was working for the T.V. program “Unsolved Mysteries” on NBC picked up on his feature and flagged it to producers, who contacted Warnock for assistance in televising a segment on the piece. Airing in 1991, the Marfa Lights became a phenomenon that was now known by more than just a local populace, and the appeal was far-reaching. For 20 nights in May 2008, Texas State University scientists set up close to U.S. Route 67 using spectroscopic equipment to observe from the viewing station. They recorded a number of lights that “could have been mistaken for lights of unknown origin” but, in each case, they identified that what was recorded could have been easily explained as headlights or small fires. Considering sightings date back to the 1800s, the possibility of small fires might hold water, but not for many who have witnessed the real deal. Have you seen this spectral Texas phenomenon, or heard the stories from those who have?

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