In 1883, Texas homesteader Robert Ellison saw what looked like campfires burning across
the open plains. However, he soon changed his mind, noting that the lights floated and
bounced amid the brush. He had seen the so-called Marfa lights, named after a nearby
town, more commonly known as ghost lights. Appearing out of the blue, the glowing body
darts, wiggles, dances, and floats no higher than treetops. They are usually spherical
or oval, and up to three feet in diameter. Usually the glow is pale blue or white, but
can turn green or red.
Most ghost lights are unpredictable, but the Marfa lights are usually seen on most
nights every season. Locals said the visions were the spirits of buffaloes, vengeful
Indian warriors, a blind Indian princess looking for her lost lover, a sheriff pursuing
his wife’s murderer for eternity, or a dismembered woodsman’s body parts.
No explanation has been isolated for this phenomenon. In certain places, they turn out
to be will-o’-the-wisps - methane gas that somehow ignites after being ignited by dead
matter in swampy areas. However, the Marfa lights occur in a very dry area. Sometimes
they resemble the electric balls of St. Elmo’s fire, but the necessary conditions to
create it do not exist. Neither have geologists found luminescent minerals to explain
Some scientists say the most feasible hypothesis is something called atmospheric
tunneling - a type of mirage in which light is bent to follow the curve of the earth
over long distances. In this way, automobile headlights may cause the light that creates
these lights. However, there were no such machines in 1883, when Marfa lights were also
witnessed. Other possible explanations include refracted light from planets and stars,
but to this day ghost lights remain a great mystery.