Mysteries and Enigmas

4th Grade TPSP

The Marfa Lights - A Texas Mystery

In West Texas, nine miles outside the city of Marfa, tiny ghostly lights dance in the air at night. Robert Ellison first recorded seeing the lights in 1883, and they have remained a mystery ever since. The Marfa Lights are such a phenomenon that there is a designated area for visitors to use for camping and observing.

The theories and hypotheses are many, including the possibilities of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and the Apache Indian belief that the lights are fallen stars.

3 Modern Theories About
the Marfa Lights

Meteorologists: Ball Lightning

Meteorologist: Ball lightning is simply a form of lightning in the shape of a ball. Generally associated with thunderstorms, ball lightning is an expulsion of atmospheric electricity, along with an extremely colorful flash of light. The lightning can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. The length of the lightning strike tends to correlate with its size and brightness, so a larger, brighter ball will generally last longer than a smaller, duller ball. Sometimes the balls appear to move from one place to another or to vibrate.

Physicist: Reflection of Car Headlights

Physicist: Another theory involves the headlights of cars, either the headlights themselves or their reflection off the nearby mountains. In 1973, two scientists named Pat Kenney and Elwood Wright set out to prove that the Marfa Lights were the result of atmospheric tunneling. Atmospheric tunneling occurs when refracted light continues to follow the Earth’s contours for long distances. The scientists thought that this refracted light came from the headlights of cars driving down the nearby Highway 67. To begin their study, Kenney and Wright plotted the movements of the Marfa Lights and took measurements that would allow them to compare the Lights to the headlights of cars. Problems arose for the two—the Marfa Lights would sometimes appear before there were any cars driving on the highway. The scientists gave up when they watched one light move back and forth.

Geologist: Tectonic Strain Theory

Geologist: The Tectonic Strain Theory, according to its adherents, is the only theory that can be tested for explaining the UFO-like activity of the Marfa Lights. Tectonics is the study of the earth’s crust and the forces that produce changes in it. According to the Tectonic Strain Theory, the ghost lights occur due to the wear and tear on the Earth’s crust. In other words, the Marfa Lights are due to tectonic stress. The injection of billions of gallons of fluid into nearby oil fields in order to enhance recovery of petroleum may be a trigger for these luminous displays. In order to predict when the lights will appear, scientists must gather data on how much tectonic stress occurs, how much fluid has been injected into the Earth, and the rate of that injection.

What are the similarities and differences between the 3 theories?

Discuss with your group. Be prepared to share your thinking with class.

What are some of the dilemmas that affect scientists' understanding of the Marfa Lights?

Talk about each of the three theories with your group. Can you find a controversy for each theory? Be prepared to share your thinking with the class.  

You will be divide6d into 7 groups to review a handout of 7 enigmas found in the world. Your group will be assigned one enigma to focus on. After reading the blurb about your enigma, try to come up with an answer to these 3 questions.

1. What is the meaning of the word ENIGMA?

2. What is still not understood about your enigmas?

3. In what ways in the information you were given incomplete or lacking explanation?

Be prepared to share your answers with the class.

Other Mjysteries & Enigmas in the World

An enigma is......

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