BURKE COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Appalachian State University Physics Professor Dr. Dan Caton a few years back was skeptical, but still interested in learning more about the folklore known as the Brown Mountain Lights in Burke County.
For more than a hundred years people have reported seeing strange lights above the hillsides. An overlook along highway 181 has been a popular viewing spot.
Most sightings, said Caton, can be explained as reflections on clouds, headlights in the distance or a known, natural phenomenon. To be sure, though, he set up a camera on a remote piece of property almost three years ago that would take 30 second-long shots, one right after another, every night.
"We never saw anything," he said.
He and his partner talked about giving up, but added a camera in January and thought they would give it one more year.
Then last month something happened. A light was seen on the pictures. Where it was - hovering far above the mountains and caught from two angles - made no sense, Caton said.
"When that popped up I said, 'whoa, what is that?'" Caton still is not sure what the image is from. "Pretty clearly it is not anything I have seen before."
At the Burke County Visitor's Center Ed Phillips said the new pictures will draw people to the overlook hoping to see the phenomenon.
Having scientists determine the lights exist is big, he said. "They are real, we just don't know what it is."
The visitor's center has printed viewing guides for the lights and hopes to hold a symposium on the mystery this fall.
Caton, meanwhile, will keep looking for answers. It's possible, he said, that it is a rare sighting of what is called "ball lightning," but added he needs more evidence to make that a definitive conclusion.
He said, "I want to see more."
So the cameras will stay in place with hopes of more pictures of the Brown Mountain Lights in the days to come. They'll maybe provide an answer to the mystery that generations have failed to solve.