Who the Heck is Martha?

I read a sci-fi story recently in which the writer scoffed at gullible idiots who believe the “Martha Lights” are as real as ancient astronauts and Elvis sightings. (In another story the same writer claimed it never snows in Santa Fe, which is like saying it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime.)

This puzzles me. Of course the lights are real. Many, many people have seen them, including me. The only controversy about them ought to be: What are they?

By the way, they are not “Martha Lights,” they are the Marfa Lights, named for the Texas town near which they’re often seen, which was named for a character in “War and Peace.” So there goes another pet theory of some writers, which is that Texans can only read cattle brands and NRA bumper stickers.

So what are they? Some believe the lights are UFOs. Skeptics say they’re nothing more than mirage-like reflections of car headlights.

“Wait,” you might say, “what about reports of sightings from before cars were invented?”

“Those are made up,” the skeptics say.

“How do you know?”

“Because they’re car lights.”

Hmm. With logic like that, I guess I could claim Cleopatra is made up, too. Fewer living people have seen her than have seen Elvis.

Be that as it may, many quite real, quite reputable scientists have studied the lights and concluded that while some might be caused by headlights, the genuine, original Lights aren’t. Explanations for these include uncommon but natural geological phenomena like phosphine and methane emissions from subsurface gas and oil; piezoelectric charges from igneous rocks; hydrogen plasma bubbles from magma pockets deep underground; and electromagnetic anomalies.

(No, I didn’t make that stuff up. Here are links to the first two non-UFO sites I found by Googling: http://www.livescience.com/37579-what-are-marfa-lights-texas.html and http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/blogs/the-mystery-of-the-marfa-lights.)

Mysterious lights are also seen in other states and other countries. Some occur where tectonic plates collide, such as in Japan, where many major quakes have been preceded by “earthquake lights.” Swamps, bogs, and marshes can produce what are variously called ghost lights, spook lights, or will-o’-the-wisps, possibly caused by gases released through the decay of organic crud.

Collectively, they are known as earth lights, and belief in the supernatural is not required to acknowledge that they exist.

So, Mr. and Ms. Skeptic, you can pick whatever explanation you like for the Marfa Lights, but you can’t say they’re not “real.”

And, by the way, if you’ve seen Elvis lately, I’m not saying you haven’t.


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