No. 83: Sep-Oct 1992
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.