The 150-Year-Old Mystery In The Desert That Some Say Is Proof Of Alien Life

The theories range from logical to downright strange.

glowing orb in the sky Vince Barnes / Getty Images, Creweemmaeec11 via Canva

There are so many mysteries that go unsolved, no matter how much researching and hypothesizing we do.

Some of those include Bimini Road, the Piri Reis Map, Stonehenge, the Dyatlov Pass incident, and the strange phenomenon of feet washing up on the Salish Sea shore in British Columbia, Canada.

But just outside of West Texas in the town of Marfa lies another of those unsolved mysteries. Just above the Chinati Mountains in the Chihuahuan Desert, you will find the Marfa lights.


What are the Marfa lights?

The Marfa lights have been called several different names over the years, including ghost lights, mysterious lights, and the Chinati lights.

Retired aerospace engineer James Bunnell described them as mysterious orbs of light about the size of a basketball that appear in the sky spontaneously, no matter the weather.

RELATED: Multiple UFO Sightings & Paranormal Experiences Have Been Tied To One Small Triangle In The U.S.


Though sometimes stationary, brightening and dimming, the Marfa lights dance, bounce, split in two, merge together, or shoot across the sky, giving observers an awe-inspiring light show.

Reportedly, they can be yellow, orange, green, blue, pink, white, or red and appear above the desert vegetation of Mitchell Flats. One of the best Marfa lights viewing areas is a swath of land on the shoulder of Highway 90, nine miles east of Marfa.

The lights are said to be distant spots of brightness that can be easily distinguishable from lights on farms and ranches and vehicle headlights traveling on Highway 67.



The first account of the Marfa lights was by cowhand Robert Reed Ellison in 1883. He was driving cattle through Paisano Pass and was certain that he had seen an Apache tribe’s campfire in the distance. However, he found no trace of it or anyone when he investigated.


Since that first sighting, locals have continued to claim they were eyewitnesses to the unsolved mystery.

In 1996, the town of Marfa had their first Marfa Lights Festival. They later built a Marfa lights viewing platform in 2003, which attracts sightseers from all around and revived the once dying town.

Back in 1955, actor James Dean even brought attention to the mysterious lights when he filmed "Giant" while staying at the Hotel Paisano.

RELATED: 20 Of The Most Mysterious (And Kind Of Creepy) Places In The World

Because no universally accepted explanation has been provided for the Marfa lights, there have been several strange and creepy theories about where the lights came from. And, as you might imagine, the theories about the Marfa lights range from out of this world to kind of reasonable.


The Marfa Lights Theories

Car lights

The most common explanation is car lights from the nearby highway. In 2004, a four-day study by Society of Physics students at the University of Texas at Dallas found that the appearance of the lights corresponded with the flow of traffic.

Atmospheric phenomena or mirages

Brian Dunning, a writer and producer who focuses on science and skepticism, believes that the lights are a result of sharp temperature gradients of warm and cold meshing together and creating mirages.


Others speculate that the Marfa lights may be caused by something similar to swamp gas, phosphine (PH3), and methane (CH4). These gasses are flammable when meeting oxygen. They light up and glow, making this a viable explanation.

Although there is no marsh near the Marfa lights, there are oil, natural gas, and other petroleum hydrocarbon reserves in the area that can produce the same effects as swamp gas.



Another theory is that the Marfa lights are the result of electrical charges coming from underground lightning storms. Bunnell, mentioned above, believes that the tectonic activity around Marfa causes geological stress, resulting in "underground lightning."

Paranormal entities or ghosts

Due to their inexplicable appearance and disappearance, legend has it that the Marfa lights are ghosts traveling through the desert. In particular, they are attributed to deceased Spanish Conquistadors traveling through the area.

UFOs and extraterrestrial life

As with anything that we can’t explain in the sky, some believe the Marfa lights are UFOs coming and going in the desert, far away from the prying eyes and dangers of humankind.


RELATED: More Than 16,000 People Have Gone Missing From One Mysterious Area Of The U.S. Since 1988

NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington, and author of seven books. She covers lifestyle and entertainment and news, as well as navigating the workplace and social issues.