Feb 17, 2012 I Micah Hanks

Earth Lights Under Fire: Getting to the Bottom of the Mystery

The appear as if by magic--strange hovering lights above the horizon--that are mostly white, but often varying in color. What are they? Are these will o' the wisp, or are they strange, intelligently controlled craft from another realm? Perhaps they are neither... or perhaps they are both. While we have various cultural names for these so-called "earth lights," we have yet to find remarkably consistent scientific terms within which we can really seek to understand the phenomenon.

While physics anomalies, swamp gases, ball lightning and naturally free-floating plasma manifestations are all theories that could account for many strange airborne illuminations seen around the globe, as is often the case with strange phenomenon, our ability to explain their occurrence in a consistent, provable manner seems to continuously fall short of the mark... but why?

Some of the more popular locales known for being home to strange and eerie earth light manifestations include Marfa Texas, famous for it's legendary "ghost lights," as well as Hessdalen, Norway, where strange glowing illuminations have been reported since at least the 1940s. Another locale near-and-dear to my heart is the Linville Gorge, a wilderness just outside of Morganton, North Carolina, where a bizarre series of illuminations known as the Brown Mountain Lights have been seen for decades, if not for centuries.

Indeed, the first modern sighting of the strange lights at Brown Mountain appeared in newspapers around 1913, but there are earlier accounts dating further back, along with Cherokee legends that delve into the curious appearances of what have variously been called ghosts, lamp lights, and even UFOs at times throughout the years. It is also well known that official inquiries have been made into the nature of the lights and their cause, including a trip funded by the US Geological Survey the same year as the newspaper attention the lights received; their conclusion was that automobile headlights were behind the seemingly mysterious appearances. Despite the prosaic explanation from 1913, a subsequent trip would occur less than a decade later, and with an entirely different conclusion: the lights, though a real and valid phenomenon, were obviously "combustible swamp gases."

Fast forward to the present: this past weekend the annual Brown Mountain Lights festival (at which I have appeared as a speaker in the past) was held in Linville Falls, North Carolina, just a few miles from Wiseman's View, one of the best-known vantages for viewing the lights. During the conference, an old battle of wits continued it's tug-o-war game, with the separate parties of pullers represented by my old associate Joshua P. Warren, a paranormal investigator with interest in fringe science, and Dr. Dan Caton, a local college professor who has preached with a no-compromise, devout cynicism regarding the illegitimacy of the lights and their adherents. According to an article in the Burke County News Herald, Caton's view remains that, "there is no proof that visiting Brown Mountain at a certain time of year will make the lights more visible," and that "there simply has not been enough recorded, scientific data to determine either the origin of the lights or why they occur."

Something I've always marveled about, with regard to such statements, is that while he's right, the only research I've known Caton to actively engage in over the years has involved visiting the overlook at Wiseman's View, like so many others, and watching for hours. I can say from experience that anyone who chooses this approach (we call it "hit and miss") for use in understanding the mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights will feel quite justified in their cynicism at the end of the evening, as predicting when the next light show is going to occur can be done with about as much success as predicting what kind of poultry or other meat will comprise Lady Gaga's next on-stage costume. In other words, much like the controversial pop singer, they're quite unpredictable... but "they" also quite certainly there.

And to my esteemed colleague Mr. Warren, I would say that, while he has engaged in active research throughout the Linville Gorge, implementing with hope and good cheer the use of scientific instruments in an attempt to solve the mystery (in fact, here's his report on their potential cause), perhaps there is more that could be done. Granted, to my knowledge Warren is the only person in recent years to work actively at pursuing the mystery and the potential science that lay behind it; for this he deserves accolades. But let us remind ourselves that, despite the merit of his or anyone else's theories, they must remain just that: just theories.

Much like the greater UFO phenomenon, the Brown Mountain Lights (also a variety of unidentified flying object, by definition alone) have been dismissed seemingly by the greater scientific establishment. Here we find a genuine anomaly in nature, and we have yet to reconcile with the strange circumstances that allow for their appearance... mostly because nobody with the serious funding and wherewithal to get out there and study them has taken interest. Again, to Warren's credit, he's done all he can given his budgetary constraints, but those kinds of operations are indeed limited.

In order to proceed with hope coming to a truly comprehensive understanding of earth light phenomenon (and thus potentially recognize new avenues toward understanding certain strange aerial phenomenon and UFOs), it has become a dire necessity that we shift our focus from seeking the answers ourselves, to an extent, and devote more of our time toward bringing recognition to the phenomenon, so that modernized, cutting-edge technology can be utilized in the study of strange earth lights; and not just at Brown Mountain, but at all the various locales around the globe where these objects tend to appear. Brown Mountain is merely one locale where the lights appear with remarkable consistency... perhaps knowing the general location for where such illuminations will occur is a step in the right direction; and with any luck, the illumination their study may provide could further lighten the path toward our greater scientific understanding of nature and the cosmos.

Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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