There are places all around the world that experience mysterious lights. From Marfa, Texas to the Hessdalen valley in Norway to Thailand, some so regularly that entire festivals are held around them. So what is going on here? What’s behind the mysterious ghosts lights?
Maybe start with one of the folk tales around one of the lights
As the story goes, back around the turn of the century there once was a woman named Belinda, who fell in love with a local man named Jim. Their relationship was great at first, but over time, Jim became violent and abusive. Causing Belinda to feel trapped, afraid of what he’d do if she left. So despite all her friends’ warnings, she stayed with him.
That is, until Belinda gave birth to a baby boy. Looking at her newborn son, she couldn’t stand the thought that Jim’s anger would come to harm him, and she decided to take action.
She fled into the woods to make her escape, but an angry Jim caught wind of her plan and chased after her. He eventually caught her and in a fit of rage, drowned her and the baby in the river.
After Belinda went missing, the people in the town began to worry about her and suspected Jim had done something, which he denied having anything to do with it, of course. They searched the woods looking for her when one night, the searchers caught sight of a glow on Brown Mountain. Thinking it might be Belinda or someone else carrying a lantern, they followed the light.
When they reached it, the light disappeared, but right beneath where it had been, they found Belinda’s body, and Jim was brought to justice.
This… Probably didn’t happen. But it’s a great bit of folklore around a phenomena that has been well-documented for hundreds of years.
Fact is, there are several places around the world that have these kinds of stories. Tales of ghost lights, glowing orbs, and other unexplainable objects that seem to happen with regularity.
Is there anything actually to this? What’s behind the ghost lights?
People have experienced ghost lights throughout the centuries and around the world.
Sometimes these mysterious lights are called spook lights, corpse candles, will-o-the-wisps, and ghost orbs. Depending on where they’re seen, they may even have a specific name, like the Marfa lights.
Cultures also offer different explanations for what causes them.
Some tales say fairies or leprechauns cause the lights. Or maybe it’s goblins or the spirits of children who died young.
And some tales are very specific.
Like in Wales, there’s the story of a man named Will whose wicked deeds doomed him to wander the Earth for eternity.
Even though he’s not allowed into heaven or hell, he is allowed to carry an ember from the fires of hell to help light his way.
In Japanese folklore, the Hitodama is a visible soul of a human that appears blue-white, orange, or red and slowly floats around just above the ground.
Ghost lights share five characteristics, according to the Ghost Research Society:
- They appear in remote areas.
- They are elusive and can be seen from different angles and distances.
- They react to noise or light by receding or disappearing.
- They are accompanied by hummings, buzzings, or outbreaks of gaseous material.
- They are associated with folklore surrounding a haunting because of an accident or tragedy.
With that said, here are some interesting and mysterious lights from around the world.
Brown Mountain Lights
The Brown Mountain Lights are found in North Carolina, where they show up at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They can appear either red or blue.
Native American tribes like the Cherokee and Catawba reported them as far back as the year 1200.
They believed that the lights were the spirits of their warriors who were killed in a battle that year.
During the U.S. Civil War, soldiers would write home about the lights after seeing them.
The Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Geological Society have often researched the lights.
Theories about what causes them include reflections from moonshine stills, swamp gas, and unusual atmospheric conditions that reflect electricity.
The Smithsonian dismissed the moonshine theory, saying there weren’t enough stills to cause the lights.
Also, there aren’t any swamps around Brown Mountain, and the lights were seen long before electricity was invented.
And because they go so far back into history and have such a connection to the local people, there are a ton of stories and folklore around the lights, one of which is the story I started this video off with.
If you want a great breakdown of the folklore around the Brown Mountain lights, Wendigoon has a great video on it, I’ll put a link down in the description.
It’s also been home to the Marfa lights for more than 140 years.
A young cowhand named Robert Reed Ellison was the first to say he saw the lights in 1883. He was driving cattle through the plains and got so scared he told everyone in town about the lights.
Everyone from farmers to WWII soldiers to couples parked out in cars have seen the lights, usually along a prairie southeast of Marfa known as Paisano Pass.
The actor James Dean was supposedly so obsessed with them that he kept a telescope in his hotel when he was in Marfa shooting the movie Giant in 1956.
Today, people from all over the world come to see the lights on clear nights. But there’s no telling when they show up.
They often only appear about 30 times a year and usually just after sunrise or sunset.
The orbs are believed to be everything from ghosts of Spanish conquistadors to UFOs to car headlights.
Along a certain 250-kilometer stretch of the Mekong River in the Nong Khai Province in Thailand, glowing red fireballs shoot up in the sky as high as 183 meters from the water.
They range in size from small bubbles to basketball-sized orbs.
The Naga Fireballs can be in the hundreds or the thousands, and they happen for a few evenings in October.
And they seem to happen so regularly that there’s a festival held there every year in October.
It’s actually called the Naga Fireball festival, or sometimes the Phayanak Festival. It marks the end of the Buddhist Lent season.
People gather along the river banks and light fireworks and floating lanterns until the time comes that the lights appear, usually shooting out of the water in the middle of the river until they disappear high in the air.
The Naga Fireballs get their name from a legendary sea serpent named Naga, who its said waits at the bottom of the river until the end of the Lent season. And legend says the lights are the breath of the serpent as it wakes up.
This sounds awesome, I would like to go to this sometime. If anybody has been to this festival, please share in the comments.
There’s a mysterious basketball-sized glowing orb that appears off the old Route 66 in northeast Oklahoma on a 6-kilometer rural road nicknamed the Devil’s Promenade.
It’s been named the Hollis Light, the Joplin Spook Light, the Ozark Spooklight, the Tri-State Spooklight, and the Hornet Spooklight, after the former town of Hornet.
But it’s always a spotlight.
And there are claims that it’s been showing up in the night sky since 1881.
Some people think it’s the ghost of a murdered Osage chief. Some say it’s the spirit of a Quapaw maiden who drowned herself in a river when her warrior was killed in battle. And others say it’s the lantern of a miner searching for his lost family.
The Hessdalen valley is located just to the south of Ålen in Norway. And it’s in this picturesque setting where one can see the Hessdalen lights.
They’ve been seen as big as cars and float for up to around two hours. Sometimes, they zip down the valley and then fade away.
They’re usually red, yellow, blue, or white when seen at night. In the daytime, they look like metallic objects.
So did other researchers like astrophysicists, chemists, data and electro engineers, and geophysicists.
The Hessdalen Automatic Measurement Station (Hessdalen AMS) was installed to register and record the appearance of lights in 1998.
And in 2018, the Hessdalen Observatory was established on a nearby mountaintop, where up to 4 researchers are stationed to study the lights year-round.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is where you can see the Paulding Light, which has been seen since the 1960s.
It’s an intensely bright light that appears in the distance at the top of a hill outside the city of Paulding.
One legend claims that the light is a swaying lantern held by the ghost of a railroad worker. The story says he was crushed when an oncoming train hit railcars that had stalled on the tracks.
Some people believe it’s the train’s light, that train now being a ghost itself.
And then there are some who think it’s a grandparent’s distraught spirit looking for a lost grandchild. The spirit’s lantern has to keep being relit, which explains why the light comes and goes.
Min Min Lights
As mentioned earlier, the Min Min lights are found in Australia’s outback.
People describe them as blue, white, or yellow fast-moving balls that glow in the dark. Sometimes a light will split in two.
And they’re known to stalk people, leaving them frightened or confused.
Some Aboriginal people believe they are the spirits of elders looking after the country.
As we’ve seen, these things happen all over the place and with such regularity that festivals are held around them and science observatories have been built to study them.
So while yeah, some of these places are using these lights in a touristy way, there must be something to them. And there’s a lot of theories around it.
Let’s start with the Brown Mountain Lights. Legends about the Brown Mountain lights have been around for hundreds of years, but the first official sighting wasn’t until 1912. And researchers have ben studying them ever since.
The Marfa lights… They’re probably just car headlights.
In case you missed it, we’re now in the “wet blanket” segment of the video.
In 2004, the University of Texas sent the Society of Physics Students to study the lights. Their report found that the lights correlated with car headlights on Highway 67.
To the point they were able to predict when a light would appear based on the cars on the highway.
This is happening because of a phenomenon known as a superior image. That’s when objects appear higher than their actual position because of the way the light bounces off of layers of heat in the air.
Marfa is almost 1,524 meters above sea level and has just the right temperature gradients along the hills to create this, basically a mirage.
This theory was backed up by a separate study published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics in 2011. They investigated the lights and came to the same conclusion, that they were refracted from a 32-kilometer stretch of Highway 67.
And the reason this only happens 30 or so times a year is because it requires very specific atmospheric conditions to happen.
Now you may be saying, “wait a second, didn’t you just say it was first reported in 1883?” And yes, I did… But apparently there’s no written record of this account.
It was a cowhand named Robert Reed Ellison, but according to Brian Dunning in the Skeptoid Podcast, Ellison’s account only shows up in writing anywhere in the early 20th century, when his descendants reported him having said something about it.
And apparently Ellison kept journals and wrote his memoirs, but he never mentioned the lights in any of it.
As Dunning says:
I’m gonna get some hate mail for this. Texans love the Marfa Lights.
For the Naga Fireballs, some people believe they are caused by swamp gas, or methane gas from decomposing biomass in the riverbed.
The methane gas bubbles rise to the surface and ignite when they come into contact with oxygen in the air.
Another theory is that they’re caused by phosphine gas.
Then there’s the theory that they’re plasma orbs formed by surface electricity being released.
Which I imagine is true for the sake of the festival, that doesn’t mean that the lights never existed. It could have been a weird natural phenomena that spawned legend and folklore in the old days.
For the Min Min lights, the explanations include marsh gas, piezoelectrics, or refraction.
That last one is probably the real cause of the lights.
In 2003, Australian neuroscientist John Pettigrew said he solved the mystery. He even created his own Min Min light.
The lights are real, but they’re caused by distant fires or bright headlights on cars. You don’t normally see these lights because they’re over the horizon and too faint.
But a layer of cold air just above the ground between the distant light and an observer can trap the light.
This layer then bends the light and keeps it close to the ground, and it can be seen over long distances.
The cold air layer also concentrates the distant light, which prevents it from dissipating over long distance.
This is actually an optical phenomenon called a Fata Morgana.
To prove his point, Pettigrew drove 10 kilometers away and turned on his headlights at a campsite.
His companions reported back via radio that they could see a bobbing light just above the horizon that was half the size of the full moon.
Pettigrew would switch his headlights on and off, and the Min Min light would disappear and return.
Oh, but what about the Aboriginal tales that clearly happened before automobiles?
Those stories often mentioned stationary lights, so maybe those were distant campfires under a Fata Morgana illusion.
As for the “chasing people” thing, I imagine there could be a parallax effect by the bending of the light to make it look like it changes directions along with you. And with the light being concentrated, it might look a lot closer than it actually is. Just a thought.
And for the Ozark Spooklight, again, it’s probably car headlights.
That part of the country’s geography often causes warm air to be trapped close to the ground after the sun sets.
This produces good conditions for a superior mirage that makes car headlights visible even though they are below someone’s direct line of sight.
That’s why the headlights seem to hover just above the horizon.
And here’s the kicker. The light wasn’t reported in a published account until 1926.
That’s the year Route 66 was built through the area and cars started driving on it.
One 2007 study found that the lights are at a very low altitude, just a few meters above the treeline.
The hypothesis is the lights are caused by the large deposits of the element Scandium around Hessdalen.
The idea is that dust from the valley ignites due to the Scandium reacting quickly with acids in the air. A burning dust cloud rises and floats or is moved by the wind until the fuel is burned off.
A recent hypothesis suggests macroscopic Coulomb crystal clusters in a plasma cause the lights. That is some Star Trek level technobabble.
It’s thought the plasma is produced by radon decay that ionizes the air with alpha particles.
Another explanation is that it’s a product of piezoelectricity.
Apparently there are several large crystal deposits in the Hessdalen Valley, it’s thought that geologic pressure on them might cause a discharge of electricity in the form of a plasma. Basically ball lightning.
Which, by the way, this might apply to a lot of these ghost lights, they often seem to happen around mountain ranges, which are formed by geologic pressure.
Finally, we have car headlights responsible again for the Paulding Light.
In 2010, researchers at Michigan Technological University set out to solve the mystery and brought along a telescope. Luckily for them, the lights actually showed up, and when they looked through a telescope, they clearly saw car headlights..
But they kept going with it. They looked for the part of the road where the light originated. Using an Adopt-a-Highway sign they saw in their telescope, they tracked the spot down using Google Maps.
One researcher went out to the spot on US-45 and recorded when cars passed it. Other researchers stayed in Paulding and logged light appearances.
The light appeared every time a car drove by the spot.
But wait, there’s more! They created the light themselves. One researcher drove a car along the highway and put on the hazards.
They saw those, too.
The researchers also conducted atmospheric modeling along US-45. Rising heat off the pavement may cause the light’s distortion.
So, yeah, there are many possible explanations for these lights, but it’s really just one that sticks out the most: cars.
That doesn’t stop many people from believing in the lights.
And when it comes to tourism and making some money, more places lean into the quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
I’ll be honest, I didn’t like making this video.
I love these stories, I love the folklore around them and I don’t want to fart all over that. Sometimes I think there should be some mystery in the world. It’s not harming anybody.
So I’d say if you were ever thinking of going to see any of these lights, go do it anyway. Don’t let me ruin the magic for you. Folklore is fun.
And just think, you can share this video with anybody you see there and ruin it for them, too.