An investigation into the Paulding Mystery Lights

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering


The Paulding Mystery Lights are a purportedly unexplained optical phenomenon, occurring nightly, deep in the woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The Michigan Tech Student Chapter of the SPIE initiated a project in 2008 to understand the cause of the Paulding Lights. Previous investigations by skeptics attributed the lights to headlights without explicitly identifying a source location. Our team applied a number of straightforward techniques to identify and then verify the source location of the Paulding Light. Beginning with observation through a telescope, the team moved to using tools such as detailed topographical maps and more common tools such as Google Street View to identify a candidate source location. The candidate source location was then validated by first recreating the light using a vehicle parked in that location. Additional verification was achieved by examining the correlation between the occurrence of the light and the passing of cars at the source location. A spectrometer was also used to compare the visible spectrum of the light to automotive headlamps. Our findings, presented here, indicate that the source of the Paulding light is automobile traffic on a stretch of road about 7 km from the viewing location.

Publisher's Statement

© (2011) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title

Proceedings Volume 8161, Atmospheric Optics IV: Turbulence and Propagation