Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Alani. Alani Wonders, “What are the Marfa lights????” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Alani!

How would you like to go for a scenic drive through the desert? We can picture it now: prickly cacti, twisted trees, and howling coyotes flash by along the road. It’s late, and you feel as if you’re falling asleep when—what’s that? Do you see them? Right there! A handful of floating orbs of light, far out in the desert.

You blink a few times and rub your eyes. What did you just see? Did you fall asleep without realizing it? Is your imagination running away from you? Are you so tired that you’re seeing things? Not at all! No, you just caught a glimpse of the Marfa Lights. 

In west Texas, the small town of Marfa welcomes thousands of visitors each year. They come to see the unexplained phenomenon that occurs just on the edge of town. At night, if you stare into the desert on the east end of town, you might see balls of yellow, white, or red light appear out of nowhere.

What are they? The truth is, no one really knows. The Marfa Lights have been a mystery for many years. The earliest written record of the lights appeared in 1945. However, they were spotted long before then. People have been talking about the lights at least as far back as the late-19th Century.

Some people believe the lights are supernatural. There are stories of Apache Chief Alaste haunting the Chinati Mountains near Marfa, and many believe the lights are the chief’s spirit bouncing through the desert. 

Others think the lights could be extraterrestrial. Are the lights from low-flying UFOs? Perhaps aliens trying to communicate with nearby people? 

No one can say for sure. That’s because, as of now, there’s no definite explanation for the lights. However, there are a few scientific guesses. Some people say the lights could be a mirage. In that case, the lights wouldn’t exist at all—they’d just be an optical illusion that’s fooled thousands.

Other potential scientific explanations include natural gas and electricity. Some people believe the orbs may be bubbles of gas that caught fire, much like swamp gas. Others say they must be electric charges, like the lightning that causes St. Elmo’s Fire. 

One group of scientists did believe they solved the mystery. After studying the lights, they claimed that they were caused by automobile headlights from a highway 20 miles away. They said that the lights looked like they were bouncing and changing colors because they were so far away.

Most Marfans—as people who live in Marfa call themselves—are not convinced by the headlight explanation. After all, early sightings of the Marfa Lights occurred in the 19th Century, well before automobiles were common in the area. And can you really see headlights from so far away?

Could the Marfa Lights be ghosts? Aliens? A mirage? Electricity? Gas? Headlights? We may never know for sure—and many prefer it that way. After all, for many, the fun of a good mystery is just that—it’s unsolved!

Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.7, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2

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