May 31, 2019 I Brett Tingley

North Carolina’s Mysterious Brown Mountain Lights Caught on Camera

One of my home state’s most well-known unexplained phenomena was caught on camera recently by a group of researchers from Appalachian State University. The team has two cameras set up in the mountains near Morganton, North Carolina trained on Brown Mountain. For over a century, witnesses have reported strange orbs or streaks of light darting among the hills of the Pisgah National Forest around Brown Mountain, but scientists have yet to produce a definitive explanation for the phenomenon. Will we ever solve the mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights?

The Brown Mountain Lights have been covered by North Carolina newspapers for decades, and one of the earliest accounts of the Brown Mountain Lights was published in the Charlotte Daily Observer in 1913. This most recent sighting took place earlier this year when one of the cameras set up by an Appalachian State research team caught a few unidentified lights on camera. See the footage for yourself.

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A picture of the lights from 1962.

While the video certainly shows a few ambiguous streaks of light, it sure does look a lot like the “rod” phenomenon which occurs when cameras capture insects flying faster than their frame rate. The result is that tiny insects can appear like massive flying rods, which themselves have been the source of several studies and paranormal claims. The fact that they are caused by flying insects is still disputed by some.

Were these alleged Brown Mountain Lights merely insects? Even the video’s author notes that they are “likely lightning bugs but it's winter.” The video was taken months before lightning bug season in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean another insect couldn’t have reflected light from traffic in the distance. In his YouTube description of the footage, Appalachian State astronomer Dr. Daniel Caton claims the lights were captured on two different cameras, but that the second camera’s footage is unusable “due to camera quitting after a storm.” It’s always the camera, isn’t it?

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Brown Mountain

While many simple explanations for the Brown Mountain Lights have been put forward over the years, they are still considered a mysterious phenomenon and are somewhat rare. A few friends of mine claim to have seen them inadvertently while camping, but then there are those who have looked for them for years and have never witnessed the lights. Still, reports and studies of other similar unexplained Earth lights around the world lend legitimacy to reports of the Brown Mountain Lights.

In Norway’s Hessdalen valley for instance, witnesses have for decades reported strange orbs of light of various colors that appear both by day and night. Possible explanations include piezoelectric discharge due to underground conductive crystals rubbing together, some unknown type of chemical combustion which can occur under extremely specific conditions, or even by ionization of air and dust caused by deposits of radioactive elements underground.

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Unexplained illumination photographed over Table Rock, North Carolina (image by Bill Fox).

What could be causing these strange, seemingly natural Earth lights? Are they indeed a natural phenomenon? It’ll take a lot more than one blurry YouTube video to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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