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No. 83: Sep-Oct 1992

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Checking Out Some Texas Ghost Lights

Some members of the Houston Association for Scientific Thinking (HAST) have visited the sites of the famed Marfa Lights (West Texas) and the less-publicized Saratoga Lights (East Texas). With binoculars, telescopes, and road maps, it was fairly easy for them to ascertain that the Saratoga Lights were simply the headlights of automobiles traveling along Route 787. The Saratoga display is a bit eerie but not at all mysterious, according to HAST.

The Marfa Lights turned out to be more impressive and, in consequence, quite a tourist attraction. The favorite viewing site is on Highway 90, 9 miles east of Marfa. HAST logged a total of 9 hours of observation there on three successive nights. All of the lights observed were easily attributed to cars traveling north from Presidio to Marfa. People at the viewing site who knew of the Presidio-Marfa road had no trouble identifying the lights as those of automobiles. But those unaware of the road called the lights mysterious. As for the frequent reports of Marfa lights cavorting and executing strange maneuvers, HAST thought they were probably due to low-flying aircraft in the neighborhood of the Chianti Mountains some 40 miles away. In fact, just such a plane was observed during a daylight trip to Shafter, a town near the mountains.

Admitting that the Marfa Lights are indeed entrancing and even mildly mystical, the report closes (rather incongruously for an admittedly skeptical writer) with:

"A reminder that caution must be taken. Because what we saw four nights in Saratoga and three nights in Marfa did not go out of the bounds of the ordinary does not mean that the extraordinary has never occurred in either place."

(Lindee, Herbert; "Ghost Lights of Texas," Skeptical Inquirer, 16:400, 1992.)

Comment. Previous descriptions of the Marfa lights in Science Frontiers (#34 and #51) seem to portray phenomena much more "extraordinary" than automobile headlights! In SF#34, for example, one of the "lights" is said to have approached to within a few feet of a car and then followed it for a couple miles.

Reference. For a comprehensive treatment of "nocturnal lights," refer to Chapter GLN in our catalog: Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal, Lights. Ordering information here.

From Science Frontiers #83, SEP-OCT 1992. 1992-2000 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