It was a warm summer evening in 1951 when three professors from Texas Technological College saw a group of strange lights moving in a V-formation across the sky over Lubbock.
In the following weeks, residents from across the city reported similar sightings, describing groups of glowing lights flying low and fast and abruptly changing direction.
This phenomenon, dubbed the Lubbock Lights — which remains unsolved more than 70 years later — is one of the most well-known UFO sightings in our nation’s history. But it’s only one of dozens— if not hundreds — of reported UFO sightings in West Texas.
Caprock Chronicles: Strange phenomena seen over Lubbock skies in 1951
As part of our Weird West Texas series, we explore some of the most odd, eccentric and just plain weird things in our region — from the state’s northernmost town of Hitchland down into the Big Country, westward to the Permian Basin and all the way into the Rolling Plains.
This week, we’re covering the UFO sightings from Abilene to the Panhandle
Lubbock’s UFO Legacy
Beyond the most famous of Lubbock’s UFO reports, the city is a hot spot for UFO encounters. According the National UFO Reporting Center database, witnesses have reported nearly 60 sightings since 1995.
Sure, some of them may be explainable. That was the case with a sighting in 2012; it turned out to be an object that its owner describes as a multi-rotor, which allowed him to take aerial photos for his company, Swing Wing Productions.
“”It’s six electric motors that are all connected together with stabilization electronics running through the,” Kris Barton told KCBD. “They run off two batteries that are 14.8 volts each – so a little stronger than the battery in your car.”
But data shows West Texas accounts for nearly half of Texas’ reported UFO sightings since the 1990s. So far this year, only one two have been reported in the Lubbock area.
One witness stated there were “blinking lights but not a place” for about three minutes on March 18 in Wolfforth, while another stated they saw a “v shape formation with 5 lights traveling low and fairly slow” for about five seconds on Jan. 19.
Since 1998, Lubbock had more than 50 reported sightings. Many describe a “V-shaped object” with several dim lights” or a “triangle-shaped object.” Several occurrences had multiple reports, including one instance on Feb. 5, 2012 at 9:10 p.m. when one person wrote “fireballs seen in the sky” and another wrote “hovering glowing objects, strategically line up and travel west” for five to two minutes.
Although, in some of the more dramatic cases, their encounters were closer, such as in the instance of one person who wrote, in August 2021 that a “saucer-shaped craft surrounded by pulsating, expanding and contracting white and green light followed me (for about 30 minutes) and wanted me to see it.”
In 1957, one alleged witness, who was driving near Levelland, said he saw a bright flash of blue light before his truck engine sputtered, then died, as they felt something pass overhead, according to KAMC. Dozens of others shared similar experiences that night, but Air Force investigators claimed it to be a rare phenomenon called “ball lightning,” debunking the widespread UFO theory.
While there are no established theories that suggest UFO sightings occur more frequently in Lubbock than other parts of the state, some experts suggest that a higher proportion of Lubbock residents may be more inclined to believe in UFOs and report them, after the Lubbock Lights encounter.
It’s also a possibility that it’s more frequent in Lubbock due to less light pollution and obstructions in the sky.
Uncovering the Panhandle’s Mystery Objects
While technically explainable and quite terrestrial-based in nature, occasional research balloon sightings on the High Plains have created brief UFO frenzies in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico.
A well-documented case of a balloon release prompting UFO reports came on Sept. 23, 2011, when two silvery, shining orbs glimmered in the sunset on a Friday evening, raising questions from folks from Lubbock to Amarillo and points in between.
Calls and messages poured into the Avalanche-Journal newsroom, reporting the mysterious objects. Residents across the South Plains and Panhandle took to social media, sharing photos and theories.
As the Avalanche-Journal reported at the time, the two bright lights in the sky to the northwest of Lubbock were high-altitude research balloons near Canyon and Clovis, N.M., according to the National Weather Service in Lubbock.
High-altitude research balloons visible over South Plains
The two 400-foot-diameter balloons were at an altitude of 115,000 to 117,000 feet and were launched by Columbia Scientific in Fort Sumner, N.M., as part of a NASA experiment.
Though each balloon was nearly 90 miles from Lubbock, their reflected sunlight appeared brighter than any star and prompted a flood of calls to emergency operators and the National Weather Service office in Lubbock.
In Amarillo, the Globe-News reported similar results, including numerous calls to its newsroom that evening.
“Some simply wanted to know what the strange shapes were, while others offered up opinions to their origins,” the Globe-News reported. “The most common suggestions revolved around the NASA satellite that has been reportedly headed toward Earth. A few people were convinced it was breaking up into pieces and entering the atmosphere.”
Beyond that, though, Amarillo is still high in numbers for UFO encounters in the NUFORC database with 52 reported sightings since 1960.
The most recent was described as a “strange light phenomenon spotted moving in a complete circle above my apartment complex” on Oct. 28.
As with Lubbock, many of the witnesses described “V-shaped crafts” with large lights. Several others say “a strip of lights in the sky,” to which NUFORC added a note that they were possibly Starlink satellites.
Panhandle, Canyon and Hereford also had several reported sightings.
Abilene’s UFO Encounters
Some may quickly pass it off as military equipment since Dyess Air Force Base is in proximity, but more than 50 have reported sightings in Abilene since the 60s, according to the database.
The most recent, on July 23, described a “cluster of lights with one separated” for about one minute.
One of the more notable sightings over the years, according to the Abilene Reporter-News archives, is a 1973 incident when four employees of radio station KEAN reported three unidentified objects southwest of town just after dusk.
One of the men reported that one of the objects was “solid white and swung like a pendulum, while the other two objects flashed red, green and blue.” They then appeared to come closer and remained stationary before backing up — a common experience reported in the NUFORC database.
Another archive with the Reporter-News notes an experience in 1981: “A luminous object appeared to hang in the sky west of Abilene for several minutes around 7 p.m. Thursday before disintegrating into a sparkling shower of debris, witnesses said.”
Plus, while not in the city — but Roswell, New Mexico, rather — an Abilene pilot encountered what he believed to be a UFO, and his co-pilot substantiated the claim. While flying, he told air traffic controllers that something passed over them “at least 2,000 to 3,000 feet above” them, according to KXAN.
All experiences remain unsolved with experts neither confirming nor debunking claims.
“It was very bright, but it wasn’t so bright that you couldn’t look at it …” Green said. “What was weird about it, normally, if you have an object and the sun is shining this way, the reflection would be on this side, but this was bright all the way around. It was so bright that you really couldn’t make out what shape it was.”
While many seemingly mysterious sightings of aerial objects are quickly or eventually explained, some are not.
That leaves many still pondering over the unknown.
Heard a different tale about this topic? Send it our way — we’d love to hear it! Or if you’re curious about one of our region’s many oddities, submit your question via email to BAddison@gannett.com with “Weird West Texas” in the subject line or via text at 806.496.4073.
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