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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, research suggests that most, if not all, are atmospheric reflections of automobile headlights and campfires.
The first published account of the lights appeared in the July 1957 issue of Coronet Magazine, the earliest 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 to merge, to disappear and reappear, and sometimes to move in seemingly regular patterns. Their sizes are typically said to resemble soccer balls or basketballs.
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.
The state notes the lights in travel maps, the city has erected a" viewing platform", and the Marfa Chamber of Commerce promotes the lights with a weekend-long Marfa Lights Festival held annually in the city's downtown.
Most people 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 explanation is 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 (see SPS study below) focused on automobile lights and reached a conclusion that vehicle lights can be seen from the View Park. The Aerial Hyperspectral and Reflection Study (see below) also focused for one night on reflected vehicle lights on Highway 67. These studies showed 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 Marfa lights observations can be dismissed as automobile headlights and atmospheric reflections of known sources of lights.
This study is a confirmation of the study published in the September, 1965 issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine on Page 116
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:
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.
For 20 nights in May 2008, scientists from Texas State University used spectroscopic 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.
The "Marfa Lights" label within this image shows where car lights (not Marfa lights) can be seen on Highway 67. Anecdotal stories report that Marfa lights are typically seen west, south and southeast of the View Park instead of southwest as shown in this image.