Explained: Strange lights over the Permian Basin

Explained: Strange lights over the Permian Basin
Strange lights over Midland (STEVENPHOTOS.COM)

MIDLAND, TX (KWES) - The phenomenon of strange lights over the Permian Basin January 9 may have left you wondering about the science behind them.

More than likely, you already heard the instances were light refracted by clouds saturated with ice crystals from flares of natural gas plants, but how does that happen?

Explained: Strange lights over the Permian Basin

Dr. Brian Flowers of Midland College says it starts with the bright light of a flare from a natural gas plant where excess methane burns at extreme temperatures.

“The natural gas plants, when they’re burning off excess methane, you can actually see the light over long distances because the way light bends,” said Dr. Flowers.

He continues that this natural mirage coupled with the unique atmospheric conditions that took place yesterday led to the strange sighting.

“So it’s kind of both things working in unison, the temperature inversion allows the light to travel over long distances, stretching some of the objects, while having the ice crystals in the air are what lead to several instances of the light appearing as sub-reflections,” said Dr. Flowers.

Dr. Flowers also offered a less complicated analogy, comparing the numerous light reflections to shining a laser through a glass of water.

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