For years, there have been reports of strange lights seen in the Linville Gorge region of Western North Carolina. They're known as the Brown Mountain Lights, and their legend has been passed along for over a century. They've been described from firework-like bursts of light, to lights that rise and hover along the ridge.
Dr. Daniel Caton, professor of physics and astronomy from Appalachian State University, recently caught photographic evidence of the phenomena. He specializes in measuring the brightness and disappearance of stars and studying variables in points of light. At first, he wasn't sold on the idea.
"After dozens of trips, my partner and I didn't see anything – yet you would hear people claim that they saw them every time they went."
They concluded that the vast majority of the sightings were nothing mysterious. Caton says that "People want to see the lights, they go to the location, see some kind of lights, and think they've seen the lights. Something in the order of 95% of reports are town lights, like flashing cell phone tower lights."
But on the night of July 16, while going through camera footage, something caught Caton's eye.
"This surprising light appeared, four times, above the distant horizon. It doesn't move during the [camera] exposure. It wasn't anything celestial. It was in the same place each time – it would disappear for minutes then come back. We just don't have a good explanation for a celestial or manmade light; it's an anomaly we can't explain."
Dr. Caton says one possibility is that it could be ball lightning, which is lightning that forms in a round shape, indoors and outdoors, moves a few feet, then dissipates. But not much is known about ball lightning.
"If it were ball lightning, and somehow nature makes it in the gorge area more frequently, then we could figure out what triggers it and you could plan to observe with some hope it would occur."