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No. 33: May-Jun 1984

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Experiments On Brown Mountain

Brown Mountain, in North Carolina at the end of the Blue Ridge Mountain chain, is famous for its enigmatic nocturnal lights. In this article M.A. Frizzell summarizes the most important attempts to come to grips with this phenomenon during the past 70 years. He concludes by describing recent experiments conducted by The Enigma Project and the Oak Ridge Isochronous Observation Network (ORION). Rather than repeat once again the older published observations, let us concentrate on the Enigma/ORION work.

In May 1977, ORION placed a 500,000 candlepower arc light in Lenoir, 22 miles east of Brown Mountain. Simultaneously, a group of observers gathered on an overlook on Route 181, 3.5 miles west of Brown Mountain, a favorite spot for watching for the Brown Mountain lights. Brown Mountain itself was inter-posed between the arc light and obser-vers. When the arc light was switched on, the observers saw an orange-red orb hovering several degrees above the crest of Brown Mountain. Conclusion: the majority of the so-called Brown Mountain lights, particularly those seen above the crest, are refractions of artificial lights.

The real Brown Mountain lights, the mysterious ones, are those that flit through the trees well below the crest. These lights are extremely rare. Typically, they commence as a brilliant blue-white or yellow light, which tapers off to dull red before disappearing, all in 2-10 seconds. Horizontal motion is often only a degree or so, although some older reports have the lights wandering greater distances at speeds faster than a human could manage in the difficult terrain.

In an experiment to determine whether the "true" Brown Mountain lights might be seismic in origin, ORION detonated small charges on Brown Mountain in July 1981. No artificially stimulated lights were recorded.

(Frizzell, Michael A.; "Investigating the Brown Mountain Lights," INFO Journal, 9:22, January/February 1984. INFO = International Fortean Organization.)

Reference. The Brown Mountain lights are classified under GLN1 with other "nocturnal lights." This category appears in our Catalog: Lightning, Auroras. To order, see: here.

From Science Frontiers #33, MAY-JUN 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987