For thousands of years, people have been seeing strange lights in the sky. One of the first such recorded sightings was by the Israelite prophet Ezekiel in the 6th Century BC:
And I saw, and behold a whirlwind came out of the north: and a great cloud, and a fire infolding it, and brightness was about it: and out of the midst thereof, that is, out of the midst of the fire, as it were the resemblance of amber.
Charles Fort, the legendary late 19th-early 20th century aggregator of bizarre unexplained phenomena, cites numerous reports of mystery lights in his 1919 compendium The Book of the Damned, including this mention of the so-called “false lights” repeatedly seen over Durham, England in the 1860s:
…there is something about lights that were seen against the sky, but as if not far above land, oftenest upon the coast of Durham. They were mistaken for beacons by sailors. Wreck after wreck occurred. Fishermen were often accused of displaying false lights and profiting by wreckage. The fishermen answered that only old vessels, worthless except for insurance, were so wrecked.
In 1866 (London Times, Jan. 9, 1866), popular excitement became intense. There was an investigation. One witness described the light that had deceived him as “considerably elevated above ground.” No conclusion was reached.
If only Google had existed in Fort’s time. Today, with a few keystrokes and clicks of the touchpad buttons, it’s possible to uncover mystery lights sightings all over the globe. In August 2009, for example, the Australian news web site PerthNow ran photos taken by a reader of strange lights that appeared over the city, and his account of the sighting:
The photograph, which shows a green saucer-like shape and a reddish light to the left, was taken looking east over the Perth Hills towards Kalamunda at about 7:45pm on Friday night.
The PerthNow reader, who gave us his name but did not want to be publicly identified fearing he could be ridiculed, said: “This is a genuine photo I took last night. It has not been tampered with in any way (apart from cropping and downsize to jpg).”
The photographer stresses that he did not believe he had photographed a UFO, but has no explanation for the coloured lights which appeared on the digital images. “I was photographing the moon and didn’t see the red and green lights until viewing the images on my computer.”
In December 2009, the British newpaper the Daily Mail reported a peculiar display of “spiral blue light” that startled residents of Norway.
The mystery began when a blue light seemed to soar up from behind a mountain in the north of the country. It stopped mid-air, then began to move in circles. Within seconds a giant spiral had covered the entire sky. Then a green-blue beam of light shot out from its centre – lasting for ten to 12 minutes before disappearing completely. Onlookers describing it as ‘like a big fireball that went around, with a great light around it’ and ‘a shooting star that spun around and around’.
Russian military officials probably disappointed UFO enthusiasts when they admitted, after initial denials, that a secret missile test gone awry had probably caused the weird display.
We have plenty of sightings here in the U.S., too. America’s mystery lights capital is Marfa, TX, where residents occasionally observe “ghost lights” on a stretch of highway east of the city.
Some attribute the lights to UFO’s, secret chemicals left by the US Army, and spirits of Apache ancestors, while others believe that they are caused by a process called the piezoelectric effect, in which the expansion and contraction of rock formations puts pressure on quartz crystals and causes a buildup of electrical energy that occasionally is released as ball-lightning-type light. A 2005 University of Texas study offers a more mundane explanation: lights tracked by the researchers from May 11 to 13 of that year seemed to be attributable to automobile headlights travelling along U.S. Interstate 67 between Marfa and Presidio.
“Paranatural: Mystery Lights” premieres Monday Feb. 1 at 9P et/pt.