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Marfa Lights Explained

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the another-crypto-critter-explained-away dept.

Science 183

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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183 comments

First Post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14282997)

buhahahahhahaa

Weird... (5, Interesting)

MSFanBoi2 (930319) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283000)

I didn't know there were major highways with automobiles running around on them back when the lights first were seen...

Re:Weird... (2, Interesting)

randyzoch (689187) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283073)

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... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283362)

The headlights are obviously a DeLorean's.

Re:Weird... (1)

LeonGeeste (917243) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283445)

How about some even better detective work and someone can find a picture of them so we can posit better theories about what they are. Not denigrating what you presented, of course, but every link so far has either been dead, provided no pictures, or only provided a small, low-res picture which I can't really see too well.

And can someone please reassure me that these "junior scientists" didn't just present and "test" a theory that can't be true, since, as others have well noted, the phenomenon was observed long before cars were in the area?

A bit more detective work reveals... (2, Informative)

hullabalucination (886901) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283677)

As I suspected, a bit more detective work reveals that early sightings were first reported well after the event and that folks digging for serious contemporary documentation can find none:

http://www.astronomycafe.net/weird/lights/marfa15. htm [astronomycafe.net]

Turns out that Mr. Ellison never did mention the supposed 1883 sightings in his memoirs (written in 1937 when the man was in his 70's), according to local historian Cecilia Thompson.

Re:Weird... (3, Informative)

Tinn-Can (938690) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283087)

"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 google came up.. yeah no cars in west texas in 1883 I guess thats why they go to UTD...

Re:Weird... -- MOD PARENT UP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283261)

MOD PARENT UP

Re:Weird... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283099)

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 know better.

Re:Weird... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283109)

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I just think it's funny... (2, Funny)

emptycorp (908368) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283253)

"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... (3, Informative)

Jimbookis (517778) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283297)

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 and no-where near as interested as ghosts and UFOs be a source of the light - not that I think either exist. Except for Tommyknockers.

Re:Weird... (2, Informative)

Jimbookis (517778) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283318)

Oh, well, here is an article about the Min-Min lights explained. Min-Min Lights Explained [abc.net.au]

Re:Weird... (2, Funny)

Spock the Baptist (455355) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283672)

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.

Re:Weird... (1)

Spock the Baptist (455355) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283690)

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... (2, Funny)

Pollardito (781263) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283405)

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 (4, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283441)

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.

Re:Weird... (1)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283557)

Yeah, I was unaware that major highways existed in 1883, as well. Those cars must have had to haul ass to get between the towns before the Indians could scalp them. . .

This has been an urban legend here in Texas... (4, Interesting)

Tuxedo Jack (648130) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283001)

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]

Re:This has been an urban legend here in Texas... (4, Interesting)

Tuxedo Jack (648130) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283052)

For those of you who don't want to Google, let me explain. (Those of you who know Houston and its legends, you can skip this.)

In Houston, there's a reservoir out on the west side. Back during the 1800s, this was a floodplain, and the settlers lived there. They had a cemetery in what is now Bear Creek Park, and over the years, the cemetery became lost to the trees and such. Nowadays, teenagers use it for god-knows-what, despite the park rangers and Harris County sheriff's office sending deputies over the whole park area.

Legend says that there are blue lights there at night. It's commonly explained away as light glinting off the tombstones, but I've been there, and I can't say that the tombstones are what's giving off the light, seeing as how it was well away from the tombstones when I saw it.

Re:This has been an urban legend here in Texas... (1)

gmby (205626) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283225)

More likely it's the Hemstead Shroom Fields!

Re:This has been an urban legend here in Texas... (1)

Swaffs (470184) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283470)

So is it legend or did you see it?

Re:This has been an urban legend here in Texas... (2, Funny)

R-2-RO (766) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283395)

Suckers! Blue Light Cemetery was K-Mart's failed attempt at selling cheap headstones. :)

Finally! (1, Flamebait)

tannhaus (152710) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283003)

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! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283034)

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 school and we had more scientists and well if people in general were so damn superstitious! (That's why ID is really now being taught in schools)

Re:Finally! (1)

Zemrec (158984) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283084)

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.)

Re:Finally! (1)

Ruff_ilb (769396) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283092)

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 wrong with that. Sure, I'd rather people watch documentaries on string theory or even simple newtonian mechanics, but people don't find that interesting. Whatever gets people interested in science, I suppose, can't be ALL bad.

Furthurmore, I doubt these scientists are going to be doing research at CERN (for example) as an alternative to what they're doing now.

Re:Finally! (1)

shawn(at)fsu (447153) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283105)

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.

Re:Finally! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283126)

You must have a pretty weak stomach.

Re:Finally! (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283226)

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 work.

Oh and I swear to god if I hear or see another "cocks" er. sorry "cox" commercial I'll hurt someone. It's just a dumb name and hearing "cocks" 20 times an hour is annoying [I was recently in hotels a lot with nothing more to do then watch TV and read...]

Tom

Re:Finally! (1)

Zhiroc (909773) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283233)

Ghost Hunters is on the SciFi channel.

Re:Finally! (4, Interesting)

mark-t (151149) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283522)

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.

Re:Finally! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283572)

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

Exactly. There is no 'why', if by 'why' you mean purpose. There is only cause and effect.

 

BREAKING NEWS! (4, Funny)

Ruff_ilb (769396) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283013)

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...

Re:BREAKING NEWS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283259)

You didn't do a very good job...

Re:BREAKING NEWS! (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283286)

Actually, below are some pictures of Marfa lights and if anyone still thinks these are car lights then he has his own problems :)

http://www.whattofix.com/blog/archives/2005/07/giv e_up_trying.php [whattofix.com]
http://www.rense.com/general45/excel.htm [rense.com]
http://taskboy.com/lectures/UFOlogy/02_Pre-1946/sl ide_03.html [taskboy.com]

Also am I the only one who read the pdf? I didn't see anything about any lasers. All they did was pure statistics; # of lights appeared at given time vs # of cars that drove on the 67th highway. This could be pure coninsidence.

Re:BREAKING NEWS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283323)

The two pictures of the "mystery lights" at the taskboy.com link are in fact cars on the highway with their headlights on during the day. Look at the positioning of the lights. They are right on the near horizontal line between the light and dark terrain that goes across the entire picture.

FIRST UTD POST (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283054)

Suck my ass, SMU, UTA (thats Arlington - no one has ever heard of it), and UNT faggots.

Video Link (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283058)

Marfa Video [utdallas.edu]

Re:Video Link (1)

vistic (556838) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283134)

Those are UFOs !!!

Re:Video Link (1)

tor528 (896250) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283162)

That made me laugh, although it would be nice to see an actual video of these Marfa lights.

Re:Video Link (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283214)

Um.. those ARE the marfa lights.

They concluded the lights are generated by traffic on the highway.

Re:Video Link (1)

euphgeek (624997) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283399)

No, they concluded that the lights they saw were generated by traffic on the highway. And they still didn't explain how they could have been seen back in 1883.

Re:Video Link (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283450)

Do you have any links or references to actual documentation of these suposed obersations in 1883?

People have a tendency to make shit up. Including the suggestion that these lights were seen in 1883.

Given how the lights they saw match what others describe, this can only be the definitive answer.

Re:Video Link (1)

Froug (710553) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283510)

Fire and lanterns existed in 1883. And of course as others have pointed out, people can lie.

Re:Video Link (1)

euphgeek (624997) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283595)

Even if they were fires, lanterns or made up stories back then, the fact remains that the students only observed car lights on those nights. They didn't prove that everyone who ever observed lights at that location saw headlights. There is much that science doesn't know. Why assume that just because there is a possible way to explain phenomena using current scientific knowledge that it is the only possible explanation?

Re:Video Link (2, Funny)

flood6 (852877) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283165)

Moderated "interesting"... Every time a moderator mods a post before clicking a link, the Flying Spaghetti Monster kills a kitten...

Re:Video Link (1)

Ziviyr (95582) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283334)

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 (3, Insightful)

hazman (642790) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283471)

Now if they could just figure out what all of those eerie sounds are.

Interesting, but ruining a source of revenue... (4, Interesting)

redwoodtree (136298) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Interesting, but ruining a source of revenue... (2, Funny)

minus_273 (174041) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283241)

but but, it is a superstition. A dangerous cult. We live in the age of science. We must only believe in science and logic.

Re:Interesting, but ruining a source of revenue... (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283284)

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 more money into town.

Given that there are people that doubt the NASA moon landings, I wouldn't be surprised that people brush aside these explainations.

Re:Interesting, but ruining a source of revenue... (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283344)

to explain anything they understand

Sorry, it should say:

to explain anything they don't understand

Not Very Comprehensive; Duplicate Study (5, Informative)

Pulsar (4287) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Interesting, but ruining a source of revenue... (3, Funny)

gijoel (628142) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283497)

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.

Is it just me? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283060)

...or am I the only one who originally misread it as "Mafia lights"?

Re:Is it just me? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283075)

nope, Hoffa's flashlight strikes again! Mua ha ha

Re:Is it just me? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283636)

nopes, same here. "Mafia Lights" totally freaked me out which is why I actually read this piece and then read up on "Marfa" lights.

Urban legend... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283063)

Similar legend here...

Never witnessed it myself, but interesting how they share several similar characteristics in their stories...

http://www.prairieghosts.com/devprom.html [prairieghosts.com]

Re: Urban legend... (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283582)

> Similar legend here...

And at Bailey's Prairie, Texas [wikipedia.org] .

And probably 10,000 other places around the world.

Did anyone else... (1)

Ruff_ilb (769396) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283066)

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.

Mafia Lights Explained (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283097)

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?

;)

Re:Did anyone else... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283102)

Kill yourself before you breed, retard.

Science! (1)

mboverload (657893) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283076)

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! (4, Informative)

EtherealStrife (724374) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Science! (1)

BrynM (217883) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283273)

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.

Re:Science! (1)

Dark_Lord_Prime (899914) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283300)

Read a little farther down the post next time:

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

;)

Re:Science! (1)

QuasiEvil (74356) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283368)

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 carriage, it just seems unlikely.

Oh well, headed down that way this spring. Even though I'm sure there's a perfectly rational explanation for it all, I still want to see the phenomenon for myself.

Highway 67 / Population Density (2, Informative)

Pulsar (4287) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283355)

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 it takes through the mountains near Marfa [google.com] are most likely not related to any common paths taken by carriages before the highway was built.

Also, the population density out in that part of Texas, especially before cars were common in the region, was incredibly low. I doubt there would've been enough carriage traffic on any given night to generate the type and number of phenomenon normally attributed to the Marfa lights. Considering the current population of Marfa is 2,424 people [esc18.net] , I'm almost certain there wouldn't have been enough traffic of any sort before Highway 67 was built to generate all of the phenomenon reported during that time.

Re:Science! (1)

LeonGeeste (917243) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283493)

The students did a great job of presenting a possible explanation,

I'm not sure that's what you want to say. When your theory could be dismissed just from finding historical information available on fuckin Wikipedia, that's a few thousand miles from a "great job of presenting a possible explanation". Part of a "great job" is to do your goddamn homework.

Sure... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283091)

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

Thats what they want you to think

This was explained DECADES ago! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283145)

Back in the '70s I read an old (even then) Popular Science magazine article about these lights, and the car headlight explanation!

Your Tax Dollars At Work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283203)

and my tuition money (I'm a UTD student) at work too. I'm glad that they are about to jack it up even more so that a bunch of physics students can go camping on my dime to explain something that is rather obvious to the causal observer and already explained.

I guess part of the path of a university to become "important" is to do a bunch of these useless/pointless projects just for the sake of getting our name out there.

Re:Your Tax Dollars At Work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283283)

Perhaps you should RTFA, "UT Dallas chapter of the Society of Physics Students".

And it's trolls like you that make UTD look bad.

Re:Your Tax Dollars At Work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283548)

Perhaps you should read their research proposal to get before crying "Troll!" because someone dared to question the groupthink around here:

http://utdallas.edu/~roddy/Marfa_Lights/marfa_ligh ts.htm [utdallas.edu] .

Who's the one making UTD look bad now?

Re:This was explained DECADES ago! (1)

tazan (652775) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283212)

I remember that article, it was different lights though. It was the spooklight in southwest missouri. Iirc they put colored lenses on the cars headlights to see if the light changed color and it did.

Let's see here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283152)

Duh.

Obligatory (0)

ScaryFroMan (901163) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283171)

I, for one, welcome our new automobile headlight overlords.

It took how much work to show this is the source? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283227)

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 rising off the earth at night. Not much else to say, imo. I certainly won't rule out that there are other more interesting lights, but I was utterly unimpressed with what I've seen. I do like Marfa though, and it's still fun. Any excuse to be out in the pitch black desert at night is good enough for me.

Re:It took how much work to show this is the sourc (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283599)

> 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.

Probably no one would have made any fuss over the auto lights if not for the pre-existing legend.

Factor out the modern phenomenon and you're left with one of thousands of unsubstantiable claims of ghost lights around the world. Maybe some of them actually had some basis in fact, but at this date it's nigh impossible to tell which ones, let alone to investigate the source of light seen 100 years ago.

Similar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283247)

Is this similar to the Bingham Light phenomenon here in South Carolina?

Do you really need lasers? (1)

yuriyg (926419) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283260)

Lasers are good and all, but why haven't somebody just walked/drove in the direction of the lights?!

Re:Do you really need lasers? (1)

Slayk (691976) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283277)

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?

Re:Do you really need lasers? (4, Funny)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283301)

why haven't somebody just walked/drove in the direction of the lights?!
They did....
And were never heard from again.

Re:Do you really need lasers? (5, Informative)

Pulsar (4287) | more than 8 years ago | (#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... (2, Interesting)

Chaffar (670874) | more than 8 years ago | (#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...

Re:Those damn SUVs... (1)

Pulsar (4287) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283407)

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.

Re:Those damn SUVs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283534)

In... pretty much any year, it's all the craze to make shit up. Also known as lies and revisionist history.

Predates Cars (1)

texbot (786549) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283325)

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.

I know these guys (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283374)

My ex-roommate was one of the physics students who went on the trip. They went in the summer of 2004, and it was basicaly an excuse to get funding so they could go on a road trip/camping. From what I hear they also brought along plenty of booze and weren't exactly in a 'scientific' mindset most of the trip. They had fun though, and got a free trip out of it, so more power to them.

We've always known this in West Texas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283383)

This is idiotic. I grew up in West Texas and we've ALWAYS known the Marfa Lights were headlights. What an utter waste of time.

Highly illogical (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283408)

"Ramp Creates Power As Cars Pass" is Hardware but

"Headlights Create Marfa Lights As Cars Pass" is Science?

Wake me up when Marfa Lights create you!

Marfa Lights = Lame (1)

lenwood (930461) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283414)

About five years ago I took a detour from a trip to Big Bend to see the Marfa Lights. Soooo lame. It looks exactly like cars driving down a distant highway. I can't imagine why anyone would want to spend more than 5 minutes there, much less try to explain them.

Google Maps in the article (1)

CrowdedBear (785684) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283444)

Anyone else notice the Google Maps screencap in the PDF? Used to good effect I must say.

Marfa, eh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283469)

- What are we Doing tonight Brain?
- The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Get psyched over distant carlights!
- NARF!

How much energy? (-1, Offtopic)

DaCool42 (525559) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283483)

The article talks about how much power this thing makes, but they never say how much energy you get from it! Saying that it makes 10kW is meaningless if you don't know how long that 10kW lasts. I'm guessing it is an extremely short period of time, perhaps even in the order of microseconds. This is not news, it's just lame advertising. Nothing to see here, move along. Oh, and gasoline isn't exactly the cheapest energy source these days anyway...

Re:How much energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14283629)

10kW is meaningless if you don't know which thread you're posting in.

Things like this... (1)

Hosiah (849792) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283553)

...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!

Headlights? (1)

Belseth (835595) | more than 8 years ago | (#14283612)

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?
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