Swarming bugs transform Luxor Sky Beam into ‘sparkly lights going up into heaven’

Mysteries

The Luxor Sky Beam is a beacon in the night sky, attracting all kinds of attention. Even bugs swarm to the top of the pyramid, and they attract birds and bats. Originally aired July 11, 2001, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas. Second of 2 Parts.

MYSTERY WIRE — On a clear night, the Luxor Sky Beam is visible from 250 miles away. It’s an attraction for tourists, of course, but it attracts visitors of another sort — bugs. Big ones. From certain distances, the column of critters can look like strange craft floating over the hotel.

“What we get are people wanting to know about the sparkly lights going up into heaven,” John Lichtsteiner says. He’s the Luxor’s technical manager.

A closer look reveals the specks in the light are bugs, mostly large moths, as well as birds and bats who show up for the nightly bug buffet. It’s a show worthy of the Strip.

Luxor Sky Beam bugs
Swarming bugs above the Luxor Sky Beam. (KLAS-TV)

“Tons of curious onlookers,” one tourist observes. “It’s quite the spectacle.”

Another tourist says, “Lots of bugs. Bugs, birds, birds … thought they were bats for a while, but I think I’ve definitely made them out to be birds.”

Tourists on the ground might find it all vaguely entertaining. But for the technicians in charge of the Luxor Sky Beam bugs are a menace.


Luxor Sky Beam

TWO PARTS:

  1. Luxor Sky Beam: A look inside the Las Vegas icon
  2. Swarming bugs transform Luxor Sky Beam into ‘sparkly lights going up into heaven’

“Moths are the enemy, right, right. Moths are the enemy,” Lichtsteiner says.

As the Luxor’s technical manager, Lichtsteiner oversees the ongoing battle between man and bug. The Luxor light isn’t one big light. It’s 39 individuals Xenon lamps, each costing about $1,200, each capable of generating about a billion candlepower.

Luxor Sky Beam John Lichtsteiner
John Lichtsteiner talks about the insects and birds that are attracted to the Luxor Sky Beam. (KLAS-TV)

And that much light attracts any self-respecting bug within flying distance. The Luxor does its best to seal up the very top of the pyramid to keep them all out. But as the giant intake fans show, many get through anyway.

The lights are so hot that when a bug dies on the glass above each lamp, it cooks. Then the glass cracks and the light is damaged.

“Once somebody left the window completely open and we lost like a dozen of these 39 lenses,” Lichtsteiner says.

You might figure the most powerful light in the world might attract curious creatures of similar stature. And it’s true to an extent. The Luxor says helicopter pilots just can’t seem to resist flying through the light. The beam is now regular stop on chopper tours. Our own chopper had to give it a try.

Luxor Sky Beam bugs
Dead moths are caught on a screen at the top of the Luxor pyramid in Las Vegas. (KLAS-TV)

Seven years ago, there were concerns from pilots and the FAA about potential dangers to aviation. But Luxor has accommodated all concerns.

“They’ve got three strobes on each side. And the purpose of the strobes is, as I’m told from the original installation, was to flash for 30 seconds to warn the pilots that, ‘Hey, be careful. The light’s gonna be coming on,’” Lichtsteiner says.

“And then when we did our remodel, we had some other ideas about moving lights and that sort of thing. I talked to the FAA, Mr. Larry Tonish, he said we don’t have any problem as long as you don’t make that light move.

Chances are, pilots get as much a kick out of seeing the light come on as the rest of us.


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