Saturday, January 29, 2011

Are Marfa Lights Headlights?

A recent post on Modern Pterosaur ("Scientific Skepticism and Marfa Lights") mentions only briefly the car-headlights explanation for the mystery lights of southwest Texas. That post was in response to another post, one by Brian Dunning, on Skeptoid ("The Marfa Lights: A Real American Mystery"). I recommend the first post, not the one by Dunning.

To the best of my knowledge, no scientist who has studied or researched or observed any lights around Marfa, Texas, (including James Bunnell, Edson Hendricks, and Norman Huntington) object to the idea that some spectators at the Marfa Lights Viewing Platform sometimes observe car headlights and have assumed that they had seen "Marfa Lights." There is adequate studies to make this clear: Night mirages of car headlights can sometimes appear mysterious. But that is not the point. Other lights that occasionally fly around this part of southwest Texas appear quite different; they are not mirages of car headlights.

Dunning, in his post "The Marfa Lights: A Real American Mystery," falters in two ways when he sells car headlights or exchanges them for mysterious Marfa Lights. But his double trip-up can be overlooked for the moment, for the research of James Bunnell calls for a closer look. What about the strange lights that greatly differ from car headlights?

On pages 168-169 of Bunnell's book Hunting Marfa Lights (available at a discount on Amazon), we find the definition of "CE ML." They "exhibit chemical or combustion-like properties with electromagnetic attributes." Bunnell says that those Mystery Lights (ML) "are truly mysterious and do not fit into Mirage . . . categories." He should know about chemical and combustion-like properties, being literally a rocket scientist.

Bunnell's remote automatic cameras have recorded amazing flying light behaviors, including one flight at low altitude for eleven miles. This kind of ML he classifies as "CE-III." Some flights have been obviously unrelated to any automobiles, traveling where there are no roads or highways. But also telling is the nature of the light from these flying things, for a series of explosions seems to be involved, whether or not it relates to propulsion (which I discount). Not just flight directions or explosive characteristics distinguish these lights from car headlights, however; CE-III's can fly around in colors nothing like any car headlights.

Now back to Dunning. How did he falter regarding car headlights? First, he assumed that if strange lights existed around Marfa before the advent of cars, somebody would have written about it in some permanent form before any cars appeared. He seems to be confused about the significance of various kinds of evidence. If somebody had written, in a book, before there were any cars, about mysterious lights around Marfa, it would be clear evidence against the car headlight hypothesis. But the absence of an old written record does not make second-hand reports of nineteen-century sightings of mysterious lights worthless; it just makes it less decisive against car headlights. Evidence is rarely considered either proof positive or worthless; most evidence is somewhere between those extremes.

Dunning also trips up on a brief study (much briefer than Bunnell's investigations) by a group of physics students. Their conclusion was not that all lights ever seen as mysterious around Marfa are from car headlights. They concluded that the lights that they had personally seen were car headlights. But the CE-III and similar non-mirage lights seen by Bunnell and other scientists do not appear every night like the predictable car traffic on a nearby highway; they appear only a few times each year. Apparently, the CE-III lights did not show up when the college students were looking at car headlights on those two or three nights: unlucky for the students, but they were apparently unaware of their bad luck.

This post contains the opinions of the author, Jonathan Whitcomb.

See also the post about Marfa Lights and Pterodactyls

See also Ropens (live pterosaurs in Papua New Guinea)

See also Marfa Lights in the Houston Chronicle

See also Marfa Lights not Car Headlights in Texas

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