Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hunting Marfa Lights

Hunting Marfa Lights by James Bunnell
Lacey Publishing Company, 12/1/2009
Paperback, 320
ISBN-13: 9780970924940

Hunting Marfa Lights reports the results of an eight-year investigation (2001-2009) into mysterious lights seen near Marfa, a small West Texas town. This is, to date, the only long-term, extensive study of these phenomena. Reports of unusual lights east of Marfa extend back to the 1800s. Based on data collected, the author finds that while most of the observed lights in this area can be explained, about 3 percent are truly mysterious and of unknown origin. In addition to frequent on-site observations and photography, the author installed three automated monitoring stations equipped with a total of nine cameras, to collect nightly video records. Included in this 311-page book are 34 firsthand accounts from eyewitnesses and more than 120 illustrations and photographs. Of particular interest are compelling stories told by people, including the author, who have encountered these mysterious lights and have been astonished and amazed by the experience.

My Thoughts:

Hunting Marfa Lights by James Bunnell explores explanations for the mysterious lights that can be seen at night near Marfa, TX, "a high-desert basin surrounded by beautiful mountains and mesas." Bunnell writes:
"Mysterious lights are reported in many locations worldwide, but one of the best known of these sites is near the small West Texas town of Marfa. In fact, the Marfa Lights are so well known that the State of Texas has created a roadside park for travelers who wish to stop by and take a look. Marfa is slowly gaining worldwide recognition as the home of mischievous nocturnal lights that shine, pulse, dance, and do amazing things to delight lucky observers. These nocturnal happenings are observed mostly east of town in a region known as Mitchell Flat. The question is, of course, are Marfa Lights real and mysterious, or simply folklore hyped by locals to attract tourist dollars? (Location 113-117)" 
 "Marfa Mystery Lights (MLs) usually fly above desert vegetation but below background mesas, with altitudes varying anywhere from 400 feet to as low as 2 or 3 feet above ground level. There are exceptions. One type of mystery light flies high in the night sky entirely above local horizons. (Location 156-157)"
"Light colors are usually yellow-orange but other hues, including green, blue and red are also seen. Red is the most frequent alternative color. I have not witnessed a mystery light that was red from start to finish, but other people have. Marfa Lights are typically yellow-orange or orange for most of their lifetimes and will, on occasion, convert suddenly and completely into brilliant red. (Location 150-153)"

This phenomena was even noted by Native Americans and there are recorded stories from the 1800's, but no serious investigation was ever mounted until Bunnell undertook an eight year exploration utilizing several different monitoring stations and cameras to try to capture the allusive, mysterious lights. Because this is a scientific study of the lights, rather than a collection of fantastic stories, Bunnell approached his study in a methodical manner, recording everything he did and keeping thorough data, notes, photos, and charts of the various lights he or others saw.
Bunnell concludes that most of the lights can be explained, but not all of them:
"Based on my investigation of Marfa Lights phenomena, I believe that in most instances, mysterious lights seen from the Marfa Lights View Park do have explainable sources. Some are indeed motor vehicle lights. Others come from many explainable light sources, as discussed in Part II of this book. After eight years of investigation, I am equally convinced that there are also mysterious lights that are the real foundation behind all of the fuss over Marfa Lights. They are indeed rare, but real and most unusual. Stories of people who have experienced these marvelous displays speak volumes. Readers will find a generous sample of these stories in Appendix A. Part I of this book contains photographs and descriptions of mystery light behaviors, and chronicles my evolving investigation into these complex phenomena and growing knowledge about them. (Location 123-128)"

Some of the lights are contributed include:
chemical combustion; various car, ranch, and train lights; sprites; plasma jets; and nocturnal mirages from various explained light sources.
Hunting Marfa Lights includes illustrations of equipment used, photos of lights and other things observed (the plasma jet photo was really cool),  34 stories in the first of 3 appendices - the other two cover data and equipment- a bibliography, glossary, a list of abbreviations and acronyms, and an index.
Bunnell wrote, "As mysterious and intriguing as Marfa Lights may be, I am convinced that they are natural events well deserving of scientific study and attention. It has been my pleasure and privilege to investigate these elusive phenomena over the last few years. This book is the story of that investigation. (Location 167-169)"
Highly Recommended - especially if you are planning to go view the Marfa lights someday or if you are simply interested in unexplained phenomena

Author James Bunnell grew up in Marfa, a small town in West Texas. He retired from BAE Systems as director of Mission Solutions for Air Force programs, and was a member of the launch team for all manned Apollo launches (from 1968 to 1973) and earned an Apollo Achievement Award for support of the Apollo 11 launch. He has written two other books: Seeing Marfa Lights and Night Orbs.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Netgalley for review purposes.

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