ASU scientists think they've captured images of WNC's unexplained Brown Mountain Lights

Scientists from Appalachian State University have captured images believed to be those of the elusive Brown Mountain Lights. (Photo credit: Daniel Caton and Lee Hawkins)

MORGANTON, N.C. – Scientists from Appalachian State University believe they have captured images of the elusive Brown Mountain Lights.

Regular sightings of the mysterious lights seen hovering above Brown Mountain date back more than a century. But as often as they're seen, the lights are rarely captured on film or video.

But last month round, glowing lights were captured simultaneously by two time-lapse digital video cameras near the mountain, which is located just north of Morganton. The cameras are operated by Daniel Caton and his colleague Lee Hawkins, of the physics and astronomy department at Appalachian State.

Below are Caton's and Hawkins' videos (click here if you are viewing on a mobile phone):

Caton has worked to capture evidence of the lights since participating in a symposium about the natural phenomena that was hosted by the Burke County Tourism Development Authority in February 2011. However, time-lapse video cameras on Jonas Ridge yielded no conclusive imagery during the last five years, and Caton was considering pulling the plug on the study--when he noticed an anomaly while reviewing footage from July.

“This is the first time we’ve had a dual detection," (the phenomena on both cameras), he said. "It was something out there. It came on and went back off virtually instantly four times over several minutes,” Caton explained. “We’ve eliminated all the things that are likely man-made natural sources, so we’re left with no real explanation other than it’s whatever the lights might actually be.”

Theories of what causes the lights include ball lightning, which Caton considers a possibility, to naturally occurring gases rising from the mountain.

Burke County tourism director Ed Phillips, who has taken a particular interest in the lights and put together the two symposia, sees this development as a breakthrough.

"Those who have seen the lights over Brown Mountain are ecstatic that a team of scientists has finally captured a mysterious light in the same location,” Phillips said. “These images give credibility to the many people who have seen lights over the mountain.”

Caton, a scientist, wants to gather more data on the lights. But he acknowledges the footage is a very interesting development.

“It’s intriguing. I was about ready to give up, so this was one of those moments when you look at the screen and go, ‘What was that?’” Caton said. “It’s the first time we’ve captured something that we can’t easily explain.”

Phillips applauds the efforts of Caton and his team of researchers, knowing that it will likely result in an increased interest in the Brown Mountain Lights.

“This is significant. We hope to host a symposium in the future that focuses on the science behind the lights and the research into their cause,” said Phillips. “Does this verify the Brown Mountain Lights? I believe it does. Do we have an explanation? No, we don’t.”

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