What are Queensland’s Mysterious Floating Lights?

The Min Min lights have haunted Western Queensland for a century

First reported in May 1918, the eerie Min Min lights have been said to reduce men to tears.

Described as fluorescent hovering balls, the lights appear just above the horizon. Although sightings are rare, the mysterious outback lights attract many visitors. Shelley Norton from Boulia’s shire council explains:

They come in, and they don’t know what they’ve seen, but you can guarantee that it’s the Min Min light.

Min Min LightsImage: Wikimedia Commons

The mystery has lived with the town’s folk of Boulia for over a century, stimulating some rather terrifying folklore. Parents told their children to behave otherwise the Min Min lights would come to collect them, Indigenous Australians consider the lights to be spirits and locals believe that if the Min Min lights ever catch up with you, you will disappear inside them forever.

Genevieve Hammond from Boulia grew up with the local legend but didn’t believe the rumours until she saw them while camping with her husband in Queensland’s Channel Country

It was a cold, clear night on a remote cattle station, the Hammonds were setting up camp completely alone for 120kms... or so they thought.

They witnessed a bright ball of light hovering just over the horizon. The Min Mins. 

“It moved very slowly to the left and then came back on itself, and it went on like this for about 15 minutes. It was silent and very eerie. We were trying to think, could it be a neighbour? A car? The next day Johnno went over to where the light was, and there was nothing.”

Genevieve, says there is no other explanation, it had to be the Min Min lights. 

Usually spotted while camping, the light can appear as a lone object or as many. People have reportedly seen them dance on tree tops and even follow people around. 

“It’s very spooky, and no one knows what it is.” Says Shelley Norton.

It's one of Australia's greatest mysteries (read about Australia's bizarre fairy circles) and has put Boulia on the map. First spotted above the Min Min Hotel ruins in 1918, the lights are generally seen at ground zero in Channel Country.

Boulia Shire Council Chambers, Boulia, ca. 1904Image: Wikimedia Commons

Much like any natural phenomenon, conspiracy theories have surrounded the Min Min lights. The more extreme believing the lights are some kind of UFO.

The more realistic theories, however, range from bioluminescent bugs, fireflies and fluorescent gas.

Jack Pettigrew, a neuroscientist from Queensland University, believes he has solved the mystery.

Stumbling upon the lights a decade ago, while looking for a rare bird, he and his team were shocked by the Min Min.

Fuzzy edges in rapid motion like a swarm of bees, differing in colour that moved as if it had a mind of it’s own.

Admitting that his team was so terrified by the experience many of them started crying.

Pettigrew, however, doesn’t believe they’re spirits or UFOs, but rather a rare nocturnal occurrence known as the Fata Morgana mirage.

The Fata Mirage is when light travels over long distances. Responsible for numerous strange sightings such as the floating boat spotted by beachgoers earlier this month.

A picture of a cruise liner that looks like it was floating in mid-air.

Mirages are pretty common. On hot days a hot road can appear to reflect the sky. But Fata Morgana is unusual, only seen when the air is cooler on the ground than directly above. This is called a temperature inversion and under particular conditions light can be bent across the atmosphere projecting images from far away that would usually be invisible.

Pettigrew tested this theory by driving his car into the outback behind a small hill, making sure it was completely hidden. He pointed his vehicle in the direction of the camp, and those watching saw a light floating above the horizon changing colours and trembling. When Pettigrew switched his lights off the light disappeared.

Channel Country is ideal for Fata Morgana. The gullies and flat surface trap the cool air.

With the mystery solved, what will Boulia hang its hat on?

Mayor Britton is optimistic:

The different temperatures in the atmosphere create something like a house of mirrors, like a submarine telescope.

Either way, if you find yourself in Boulia watch the skies, the Min Min may not be far away.

Header: Shutterstock

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