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Science

Marfa Lights Explained 183

Posted by Zonk
from the another-crypto-critter-explained-away dept.
billsoxs writes "The Marfa lights are ghostly lights that have been observed for years around Marfa TX (near Big Bend). They have been the subject of curiosity , a source of tourism and scientifically studied a number of times. Now a group of physics students from the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) have use small lasers and traffic sensors to show that these lights are most likely headlights from cars on a distant highway. The publication is in the Society of Physics Students website. The PDF of the article is here. (Unfortunately the related video is no longer available on the web but more stuff is here.)"
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Marfa Lights Explained

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  • Weird... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MSFanBoi2 (930319) on Saturday December 17, 2005 @11:47PM (#14283000)
    I didn't know there were major highways with automobiles running around on them back when the lights first were seen...
    • Re:Weird... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by randyzoch (689187)
      Good detective work. This story dates back to the 1880's. Try using Google sometime.
      http://www.qsl.net/w5www/marfa.html [qsl.net]
      http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/article s/MM/lxm1.html [utexas.edu]
    • Re:Weird... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tinn-Can (938690)
      "Robert Ellison came to Marfa in 1883 and off-loaded his cattle in Alpine. He then drove the herd west and on the second night out, while camped just outside Paisano Pass, he saw strange lights in the distance. At first, it was feared that they were Apache signal fires. Mr. Ellison searched the countryside by horseback. He finally realized that the lights were not man-made. Other early settlers assured him that they too had seen the lights and had never been able to identify them." from the first thing goog
    • Re:Weird... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I have seen them, and they are not headlights from cars. That is pretty obvious. You are most likely to see them in times of high humidity, and very late at night. There is only the one highway with an observation spot, and not very many cars (this is an extremely rural area). At one time a Japanese film crew chased them with helicopters and jeeps, and they never got close to catching them, although they were able to film them. Disclaimer, I did not read the article, but if you had ever seen them, you would
      • I have not seen the lights, but if you had read the article, you would know better.
      • I have seen them, and they are not headlights from cars. That is pretty obvious.

        Right. And I've seen so-called heat lightning, and it is not just lightning that is occurring a long distance away. That is pretty obvious.

        Disclaimer, I did not read the article,

        Ahhh. It all makes sense now. And you still got modded up how?
      • I have seen them, and they are not headlights from cars. That is pretty obvious. You are most likely to see them in times of high humidity, and very late at night.

        When cars headlights are on high, and the atmosphere is ripe to reflect them. Brilliant deduction, Sherlock!
    • "and scientifically studied a number of times. Now a group of physics students from the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) have use small lasers and traffic sensors to show that these lights are most likely headlights from cars on a distant highway."

      When leading scientists can't figure it out, leave it up to students.
    • Re:Weird... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jimbookis (517778)
      I haven't RTFA of course, but there are similar lights here in Australia called the Min-Min lights somewhere out the back of NSW. Hot flat plains during the day, cold flat plains at night - perhaps a bit like Marfa in Texas. Anyway, some professor here demonstrated that the Min-Min Lights were car headlights being refracted from a long distance away. Even before cars I am sure someone's campfire at night could have been a sufficient source of light. I have to say, refracted light is terribly pedestrian
      • Re:Weird... (Score:2, Informative)

        by Jimbookis (517778)
        Oh, well, here is an article about the Min-Min lights explained. Min-Min Lights Explained [abc.net.au]
      • I'm almost certain that there was an explanation by a/an astronomy prof/s at UT Austin about how Marfa sat in the bottom of a basin, which set up some sort of thermal inversion which caused air of greater density to set on top of air of a lower density which in turn acted as acted as a lens to refract the light from bright stars, and or planets near the horizon into the basin giving rise to the Marfa lights.
      • I'd like someone to research the light with a high quality optical range finder used in conjunction with a compass and GPS to locate the position of the lights. A small telescope with a spectrograph would also be interesting. Get the spectrum on these puppies.
    • Re:Weird... (Score:3, Funny)

      by Pollardito (781263)
      so now we've gone full circle from UFOs to Time Travel, rather than freeing us from our tin-foil hats we'll need to double their thickness
    • Optical illusions (Score:5, Informative)

      by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Sunday December 18, 2005 @01:55AM (#14283441) Homepage Journal
      The lights back then probably were not cars - unless they were Delorians... However, other posters have mentioned that there are other requirements - high humidity being one. My guess is that the distant highway in question would also need to have relatively low humidity. Furthermore, I would guess that if you were to draw a diagram, showing the observer, the apparent position of the lights, the boundary between the two air masses, and the cars, you'd find that the light is being bent by the amount you would expect from the difference in refractive index.


      Now, how does this relate to the lights in the 1800s? Oh, quite easily. I suspect the lights were quite probably fires, but considerably further away and in a completely different place than the observers had expected - which is why they never found anything.


      As for people chasing the lights and never reaching them (according to another poster), this is exactly what you expect from an optical illusion from refracted light. Most people have seen this with rainbows, which are also caused by refraction through water droplets. It's the same mechanism, so you get the same "moving" effect. Duh.


      In fact, once people had observed they could not "approach" the lights, the physics of it should have been obvious. There aren't many types of illusion which work that way. You can approach a mirage, for example, but it vanishes when you get "too close". If you shine a bright light onto fog, you will get reflected light from it. Etc.

      • In fact, once people had observed they could not "approach" the lights, the physics of it should have been obvious.

        Dude, these were 19th century Texans for crying out loud! You expect them to understand basic physics?
        • by jd (1658)
          Well, it is certainly true that a book I have from 1750 describes thunder as the explosions of evaporated gunpowder, so a lack of understanding is certainly possible. On the other hand, we're in the early 21st century now, so I would have expected somebody to have figured this all out in the intervening hundred to hundred and fifty years.
    • I didn't know there were major highways with automobiles running around on them back when the lights first were seen...

      It can be explained by road lights even back in the 1880s. Horse drawn carriages carried lanterns when driving at night.

      "The entire coach was dark red with lanterns near the front to help while driving in the dark." [junebaldwinbork.com]

      Old timey looking lighting fixtures selling today still go by the name "carriage lantern" or "coach lantern". Google for it.
  • by Tuxedo Jack (648130) on Saturday December 17, 2005 @11:47PM (#14283001) Homepage
    For a while now, and I'm rather glad it's been explained.

    Now if they'd move on to the Blue Light Cemetery, I'd be more interested.

    http://www.cemeteries-of-tx.com/Etx/Harris/cemeter y/bluelight.htm [cemeteries-of-tx.com]
  • Finally! (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by tannhaus (152710)
    It's sad that we can cook our meals with microwaves, but don't know answers to questions like this. I thought science was supposed to answer the how and why. If so, they really should devote time to explaining local phenomena like this. Leaving unanswered questions for things so visible and widely known makes science look like a bunch of blowhards. THIS is why intelligent design is even considered in schools...
    • Re:Finally! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Sadly, it seems like most people are completely uninterested in scientific explainations for anything :(

      The Science Channel, Discovery and SciFi are RIFE with UFO and Psychic garbage. Why? Because that's what people want. They want to believe that not everything can be explained and actually get rather hostle at times when they are!

      As it is, we are pretty low in supply of "scientists" and time to devote to relatively unimportant things like studying swamp light. :( Maybe if science were more of a topic in s
      • Why was GP modded as flamebait? Doesn't seem like it to me.

        It's true that science and technology answer some types of questions and provide us with certain tools and luxuries, but other more mundane stuff seems to go without explanation, like these lights.

        And, on a cursory examination of the sites listed, I couldn't find any photos or video (other than this http://utdallas.edu/~roddy/Marfa_Lights/car1.WMV [utdallas.edu] which is just a highway in the dark.)
      • Sure, but I think that people appreciate (or at least understand) that REAL science is what makes their everyday lives better. They're watching the Science chanel, Discovery, etc, on a television that was produced by real science... and you mentioned the SciFi channel... well that's the Science FICTION channel, and that should tell you something.

        And if they DON'T undesrstand how important science is, well, these 'bogus' scientists are simply increasing human appreciation of science, and there's nothing wron
      • Remember when the science channel had the slips with William B Davis(sp?) The Cigarette Smoking Man calling BS on things like UFO's, physic surgery, etc. Now it seems like they are advocating that stuff. I've seen about 20 minutes total of Ghost Hunters and it makes my stomach turn to think that a show like that is on a science channel.
        • They're b-rated filler crap. Like "Storm Warning" on discovery channel [in Canada] or "Reno 911" on Comedy Central in the US [or anything with Lou Dobbs on CNN]. Most of what the discovery channel shows in Canada is totally retarded like "Extreme Machines" where they show the same five machines over and over and of course the occasional "super natural" show.

          They use crap like that to fill up the day because the real shows you'd find interesting cost money. And they're not in the business of doing actual
        • Ghost Hunters is on the SciFi channel.
      • I'm not going to comment on the religious nature of many early immigrants to the Americas - many outstanding centres of science have been based in places which to a European (me) appear to be very religiously orientated

        My point is that the spreading of population across America's vast spaces took place at a time when European nations had been fully farmed and occupied for over a thousand years.
        as a result you've always had small rural populations, which are classic sources of mythology and folklore, and
      • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by dbIII (701233) on Sunday December 18, 2005 @07:06AM (#14284268)
        Sadly, it seems like most people are completely uninterested in scientific explainations for anything
        Take for example the sighting of a cigar shaped green light over London in the late 1800's. Some insensitive clod put the light through a spectrograph and made detailed observations, thus finding out more about the northern lights and putting off the UFO craze for over half a century when people who jumped to rapid conclusions were listened to instead.
        As it is, we are pretty low in supply of "scientists" and time to devote to relatively unimportant things like studying swamp light
        Why not - if it's cool, interesting and weans people off the magnetic blankets and other superstition? A study of belly button fluff (ignoble last year I believe) got people involved with a radio science talkback program.

        ID is just a symptom of general ignorance and superstition which is becoming common. On Friday a geophysics student about to start an honors year helping out in her holidays was telling me that CRT computer screens give you the same amount of radiation as a medical X-ray after a week of exposure - of some sort of radiation like X-rays only different and just as damaging - told to her by a doctor apparantly. My explanation of how a CRT works and how an X-ray tube works only got as far as mentioning amounts of energy involved, intensity and target materials before I could tell she thought I was lying to her because I have an agenda to not replace CRTs with LCDs due to cost. Even many of those in science studies have fallen victim to snake oil sociopaths and see technical folk as Moorlocks who will eat their babies to keep technology going.

        Back to pseudo-science on TV - one thing that pissed me off intensely was the "roads that go into the sea" crap about Easter Island on one TV program made decades after they were shown to be boat ramps by scuba divers.

    • Re:Finally! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Sunday December 18, 2005 @02:15AM (#14283522) Journal
      Science only answers the "how".

      Religion has to answer the "why".

      If one subscribes to the premise that religions are superstition, then there is no "why" at all.

      In fact, to even begin to ask why, you have to suppose that there was some purpose for it in the first place, which automatically implies the existence of an intelligence or reasoning entity that designed the purpose.

      • What a douche.
      • The how is the why. You don't ask for a religious reason for why an apple falls to the floor.
  • by Ruff_ilb (769396) on Saturday December 17, 2005 @11:50PM (#14283013) Homepage
    Lights in distance probably headlights from far off cars! Populace of Marfa stunned! Physicists skeptical! Sensastionalists de-sensastionalized!

    I've never heard of these "Marfa Lights," but I can't help making fun of them out of context...

  • Video Link (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 18, 2005 @12:03AM (#14283058)
    Marfa Video [utdallas.edu]
    • Those are UFOs !!!
    • by flood6 (852877)
      Moderated "interesting"... Every time a moderator mods a post before clicking a link, the Flying Spaghetti Monster kills a kitten...
      • I named my kitten Pirate to avoid such problems.

        I actually named five kittens Pirate, so they should be safe from Eris too...
    • Re:Video Link (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hazman (642790)
      Now if they could just figure out what all of those eerie sounds are.
  • by redwoodtree (136298) * on Sunday December 18, 2005 @12:04AM (#14283059)
    So, it's like an episode of Scooby-Doo basically, everyone knows the lights are cars but the local area has used it as sort of fun way of attracting tourists and they even have a festival around the event. See http://www.qsl.net/w5www/marfa.html [qsl.net] . So, it's kind of sad that these students went to this amount of trouble to explain away the lights.

    I think it's interesting that the local legend has it that the lights have been there before cars and that you hear a tuning fork sound in one ear. Obviously these little details have been added to add the little bit of doubt to keep the charade going and to draw some more money into town.

    It's a fun thing... let it go, as I'm sure the people down there will not be accepting of even a scientific study like this.
    • but but, it is a superstition. A dangerous cult. We live in the age of science. We must only believe in science and logic.
    • So, it's kind of sad that these students went to this amount of trouble to explain away the lights.

      You mean you think it's kind of sad that rational people find a reasonable natural explaination that doesn't rely on supernatural or paranormal? I think it's kind of sad that people rely on supernatural explainations to explain anything they understand when it rarely (or never) supernatural.

      Obviously these little details have been added to add the little bit of doubt to keep the charade going and to draw some
    • by Pulsar (4287) <champ77.hotmail@com> on Sunday December 18, 2005 @01:18AM (#14283289)
      I wouldn't be surprised if the 'official viewing area' the UTD students used in the study, supposedly constructed to keep tourists from wandering all over private property in search of a better view (but most likely constructed for the revenue), was designed so that the majority of the 'Marfa Lights' visibile from the viewing area are car headlights, as discussed in the UTD study. It ensures visible 'Marfa Lights' every night, and will keep the hype and the legend alive, in turn keeping some level of tourist dollars flowing into Marfa.

      However, their study does not resolve or even address one problem with this conclusion - the lights have been visible long before cars were common, or even available, in the area. Furthermore, the students documented the lights were car headlights from US Highway 67 - however, Highway 67's west end was in Dallas when the highway was originally built; Highway 67 did not extend into west Texas and the Marfa area until 1930 [wikipedia.org].

      The best part is, this study has been done before, in March 1975, by another Society of Physics Students, who reached a slightly different, but similar conclusion [astronomycafe.net]:

      Don Witt, then a physics professor at Sul Ross University in Alpine, coordinated a monumental effort to locate the lights' source. Using the Sul Ross Society of Physics Students, the Big Bend Outdoor Club comprised of community members, and local pilots, short-wave radio amateurs, and a few outside professionals, Witt's group was positively unable to form any sort of solid conclusion. They did say, however, that sometimes the lights that people claimed were "Marfa Lights," were really artificial lights from area ranches or automobile headlights merely passing behind unseen obstructions along distant Highway 67, which winds through the Chinati Mountains between Marfa and Presidio.

      So some of the lights are car headlights - this was already known and accepted, I'm pretty sure. I'm disappointed with their 'grant from the Schlumberger corp.' mentioned in the PDF and the equipment they had access to at UTD, these students couldn't do a more in-depth study or come up with a more comprehensive conclusion. Sounds like a group of students at UTD wanted a 4 day all-expenses paid road-trip to one of the more beautiful parts of Texas, down near Big Bend National Park.

      Then again, as a UT-Arlington [uta.edu] (UTA [wikipedia.org]) alumnus, I may be a little biased against our cross-Metroplex rivals.
      • How about driving a car with headlights flashing a recognizable pattern down the area highways...wouldn't this be definitive proof if it seen as a flashing Marfa light?

        Also, here in Corpus Christi, TX we have a somewhat weird optical effect effecting the visability of an offshore platform being built on land across the Corpus Christi bay. There is a significant image magnification effect while driving on a road that faces the platform (~12 miles across the bay). Besides looking like it is bigger, you ca

        • How about driving a car with headlights flashing a recognizable pattern down the area highways...wouldn't this be definitive proof if it seen as a flashing Marfa light?

          Maybe the cops wouldn't like that on a moving vehicle, but if you parked and did it, and talked to your observers at the same time to coordinate...

          Or maybe you could just save yourself the trouble by RTFA.
      • However, their study does not resolve or even address one problem with this conclusion - the lights have been visible long before cars were common, or even available, in the area.

        Just because they move like headlights now doesn't mean they always have. Early sightings have the lights looking like campfires which, upon investigation, could not be found. Therefore it seems likely that these sightings actually were campfires that were in reality a long way off on the other side of the mountains.

    • So, it's like an episode of Scooby-Doo basically, everyone knows the lights are cars but the local area has used it as sort of fun way of attracting tourists and they even have a festival around the event.


      "And we would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for those pesky kids!!!" says Mayor of Marfa.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...or am I the only one who originally misread it as "Mafia lights"?
  • Read this as "Mafia Lights Explained"?

    "Oh shit," I thought, "now that it's been explained to me, they'll come after me next!"

    I'm sure we won't be hearing from the OP anymore.
    • Boss: Yo Ruff ilb, I'll explain de lights, but you hafta keep'em secret. Othuhwise we gunna send yer ass back here tuh Vinny. Right, Vinny?

      Vinny: *sharpens chainsaw* Ey, fuggeddaboudit.

      Boss: You 'erd 'im, kid. Keep da family secrets secret, capeesh?

      ;)
  • Just more proof of the reasoning and rationality that science provides.

    Don't understand something? Lets say ghosts did it! Or aliens!

    The world is far too complex to assume such magical explanations. All you need is some clever dudes, equipment, and the will to find something out.
    • Re:Science! (Score:5, Informative)

      by EtherealStrife (724374) on Sunday December 18, 2005 @12:47AM (#14283207)
      Don't understand something? Lets say ghosts did it! Or aliens!

      All you need is some clever dudes, equipment, and the will to find something out.


      Not that clever, if they're attributing this to automotive traffic. There were only a handful of automobiles (all of them "experimental") on the North American continent when the first documented reports emerged (1880s). In effect, they're doing exactly what you blame others for doing: they don't understand what has been causing the lights over the last 120 years, so they pull a scientific possibility out of the hat and give it a go. According to the article, they've been able to create light appearances observable at the same locations as the Marfa lights have been observed by having a vehicle on the highway flashing its lights on and off. This presents the possibility that many of the so called sightings were of cars traveling on the highway. Unfortunately for them, the highway has only been around since 1930... *cue xfiles theme* (not to mention the Marfa lights are often described as being highly distorted, and not always as clear as those observed by the students).

      The students did a great job of presenting a possible explanation, but it should be noted that they have not proven / solved anything. Even in their writeup it's mentioned that they were unable to find any historical accounts to compare their findings with. At which point Robert Ellison (first documented sighter) rolled over in his grave and coughed.

      • There were only a handful of automobiles (all of them "experimental") on the North American continent when the first documented reports emerged (1880s)
        Not taking sides here, but how long has the highway the "lights" are "coming from" been there? Carriages had lantern light for centuries. With metal focus elements since the early 1800s I think. "Vehicle light" might be a better term then. Merely a theory.
        • Read a little farther down the post next time:

          "Unfortunately for them, the highway has only been around since 1930... *cue xfiles theme*"

          ;)
          • The highway may have only been there since the 1930s, but at least the railway and probably primitive roads have crossed Paisano for some time.

            While I'm glad to see a scientific investigation into this, this study seems to at best be a partial explanation. As others have noted, the lights have been around for a long time. This study seems to neglect that, since cars would not have been nearly common enough in the 1880s to be a likely cause, and while it could be a reflectorized light on a wagon or carria
            • As others have noted, the lights have been around for a long time. This study seems to neglect that, since cars would not have been nearly common enough in the 1880s to be a likely cause, and while it could be a reflectorized light on a wagon or carriage, it just seems unlikely.

              Think, man. The source of the light doesn't have to be a vehicle light. Just because it's a car today doesn't mean it had to be a car in 1880, or even that it had to be a freakin' wagon. It could have just as easily been a campfire

        • Highway 67 was commissioned in 1927 as US Highway 67, and ended in Dallas. It didn't reach West Texas, including Marfa, until 1930. Source: Wikipedia [wikipedia.org].

          As someone who lives in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex and whose company is in an office literally right in front of what I believe is the original terminus of Highway 67, you should know that the path it takes through Dallas and through most of Texas is a pretty odd one; it's a route only a (relatively) modern traffic engineer could come up with, and the path [google.com]
      • Re:Science! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Kelson (129150) * on Sunday December 18, 2005 @03:37AM (#14283756) Homepage Journal
        Unfortunately for them, the highway has only been around since 1930...

        As someone else pointed out [slashdot.org], the early sightings aren't very well documented [astronomycafe.net] -- the first substantiated reports of the early sightings were made years after the fact and date from well after the highway was built. Even Ellison, it turns out, never actually wrote about the event in his memoirs (1937) -- he told his family about it, and they later told the story to historian Cecilia Thompson or to her source.

        The earliest report that researcher could verify was a 1957 magazine article. That doesn't mean the earlier sightings didn't happen, just that they couldn't be verified.
        • Actually, he was just the first (not the only) from the 1880's (many of the early settlers reported sightings in the mid to late part of the decade). Unfortunately, as you said, all Marfa sightings from that time period are second hand.
      • These sound like Australia's Min Min lights seen in a fairly dry region which were explained a couple of years ago. Early sightings are thought to have been kerosene lamps - and then in the early days of the automobile people still drove in that area before there were roads. Layers of still desert air in flat country can do odder things than the usual false water mirage.

        Really weird optical effects happen in cold air areas too - like the false suns seen in Antarctica at times.

        Next one - crop circles. D

  • Sure... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    These lights are most likely headlights from cars on a distant highway

    Thats what they want you to think

  • by Anonymous Coward
    What I saw at Marfa, which everyone there explained to be the Marfa lights, where easily recognized as lights from traffic. I know the arguement is that there where lights before the highway was there, however, that doesen't mean the lights they see now are the same as what was seen then. I took long exposure shots of the current lights and they followed an easily tracable path, which conincides with the highway. The distortion/shimmer is easily explained with the point of view, distance and heat risin
  • Lasers are good and all, but why haven't somebody just walked/drove in the direction of the lights?!
    • Because it's 20 miles through hilly/rough/hot/dry west texan desert? I grew up about 150 miles away from there, and I wouldn't want to trek over that. You first. :)

      That, and it made a good tourist trap. Why kill off something that brings in some tourist dollars to what otherwise is a fairly poor portion of Texas?
    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday December 18, 2005 @01:26AM (#14283301) Journal
      why haven't somebody just walked/drove in the direction of the lights?!
      They did....
      And were never heard from again.
    • by Pulsar (4287) <champ77.hotmail@com> on Sunday December 18, 2005 @01:44AM (#14283393)
      People have, actually, people have 'walked towards the lights' in one form or another ever since they were first reported in the 1800's. From one of the links [theoutlaws.com] in the original post:

      The unexpected lights alarmed the cowboys, who thought the Apaches were on the move, and they quickly doused their own campfires. But they determined to investigate the area in the daylight. After spending an uncomfortable night huddled under blankets for warmth on the cold desert floor, dawn found them on horseback, combing the area for any signs of an Indian encampment. They found none.

      All day, the men searched along the base of the Chinati Mountains and the mesa between their camp and where the lights had been. They found no evidence that Indians had been anywhere in the area. No tracks, no doused campfires, no nothing. But the next night and the next after that, they again saw the strange lights.


      As well as...

      An unscientific method was tried in the 1980's by Dallas journalist, Kirby Warnock. Warnock's family had settled in the Trans-Pecos region just north of Big Bend country more than one hundred years ago, and he first saw the lights in 1963, when he was eleven-years-old and his brother was eight. He and his brother decided that the reason no one ever got close to the lights was because they used motor vehicles, such as airplanes, jeeps, and cars. The two men thought that if they headed out on foot across the desert, they just might be able to sneak up on the lights.

      One summer, they assembled their gear and a camera, and at dusk, started walking. They tried for four hours to get close to the lights, but it was like walking up to a mirage. The more they walked, the further the lights moved away. Warnock reported that he thought the lights were "trying to frustrate and thwart us. It was like they knew what we were doing and were teasing us by staying just a little ahead of us." It is a fact that distances are deceiving in the desert. The Warnocks could not tell if they were looking at a light as big as a tire or one as big as a cantaloupe. They just could not get close enough to get a good idea of how big the lights actually were.


      The lights seem to either evade or confuse anyone who attempts to walk/drive/fly closer to them, and sometimes they simply vanish if someone seems to get 'too close'. There's even been occasional reports of the lights 'chasing' a car or plane traveling through the region, but no one has ever reported getting close to any of the lights successfully.
  • Those damn SUVs... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chaffar (670874) on Sunday December 18, 2005 @01:28AM (#14283316)
    According to the article:
    All of the mystery lights observed by this group on the nights of 11 and 13 May 2005 can be reliably attributed to automobile headlights travelling along US 67 between Marfa and Presidio, TX.
    According to the Lee Paul [theoutlaws.com] though, The first recorded Texan history occurred in 1883.

    Yep, in 1883 it was all the craze to install those Bi-Xenon headlights on your SUV...

    • Yup, an SUV with Bi-Xenon headlights that can split into two, soar into the air, and later merge back together, as well...from one of the links [theoutlaws.com] in the article:

      They appear and disappear, veering and cavorting suddenly in odd directions. One moment there might be one, and just as suddenly, it might split into two or three or more, dividing and merging at whim. They hover in mid-air and sometimes flicker like balls of fire. They might shoot straight up into the sky, or race madly to the left and right.
      • that can split into two, soar into the air, and later merge back together
        Air moves, and thus the image getting distorted by atmospheric conditions can also move. Mirages are interesting and are not limited to a shimmering false water effect. False suns in the antarctic are especially cool.
  • Marfa is a small town near what used to be an army fort established to keep Indians out of Texas. The lights were unexplained even back then. Sometimes the army would chase after the lights thinking that they were enemy campfires, but they never seemed to catch them. ...maybe just a legend. But, having been there, if it were caused by headlights I imagine it would follow the same path every time -- whereas in actuality they move about seemingly random in the sky.
  • ...makes me glad we don't have contact with any extraterrestrial species, yet. Imagine explaining this one: "Have you been sending saucers to spy on our desert? No, wait, never mind, we just figured out it was the light from our own ground vehicles." Prove your sentience after that conversation!
  • The explaination is headlights from UFOs? What a let down. Surprised it turned out to be something so mundane. Now how do we get the little green buggers to use their low beams?
  • These have been definitively explained about six times, each time exactly the same way. And then everyone apparently forgets what the explanation was last time, and/or a bunch of people say 'nooo, it COULDN'T be headlights, because that's not a cool enough explanation!' and we go back into the same roll-around again. My science writing prof in college, lo these many years ago, was part of the first or second team to go and sniff it out with an actual PhD in optics and all sorts of funky equipment, and he
  • First:

    "The Marfa mystery lights are a
    phenomenon that occurs after dusk
    outside the town of Marfa,"

    then

    "Traffic volume decreases after dusk just as the
    number of observed mystery lights"

    If they don't occur until after dusk, and then decrease, that means the Marfa lights appear in negative numbers. No wonder nobody knows what they are. There are less than none of them to study.
  • ...is doing some interesting things. They are a former junior college, and they are heavily recruiting valedictorians via nice scholarships, and doing things to attract other smart kids (nationally ranked chess club, etc). If I was trying to make my new university stronger, I'd be doing exactly what they're doing.

    They have this thing called the McDermott (sp?) Scholars. My friend from high school is one. They are, among other things, required to study abroad as part of the program. They also get something l

Physician: One upon whom we set our hopes when ill and our dogs when well. -- Ambrose Bierce

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