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What are orbs in digital pictures?


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Answered 2009-09-19 12:12:34

An 'orb' is the appearance of what looks like a globe or blob of light in a photograph or movie. Orbs can vary in size, shape, colour, or amount, and sometimes contain details or patterns. When captured on a video, orbs can appear to move, sometimes smoothly, sometimes erratically.


There are two main competing explanations for orbs.


If the orb is captured as part of a paranormal investigation such as a ghost hunt, or if a photograph containing an orb is viewed by someone who believes in paranormal phenomena, very often the explanation given for the orb is that it is the appearance of a ghost or some sort of 'psychic energy'. Various groups apply different mythologies to orbs, often believing them to signify the 'first stage' of a 'physical manifestation' such as an apparition.


The alternative explanation is that the orb is some sort of natural phenomenon or camera artefact, rather than a paranormal phenomenon. Many photographic experts and scientists argue that, despite their quite homogenous appearance, orbs can be formed from various natural phenomenon such as dust or insects glinting very close to the camera lens, lens flare or camera faults.


There are other less common paranormal explanations too, such as that orbs are fairies, or really any particular supernatural phenomena the observer accepts as true. Other less popular naturalistic explanations include ball lightning and 'earth lights'.


Sceptics believe it is significant that orbs have become exponentially more common since the advent of digital Photography, as it is known that digital cameras are prone to bright spots where the light sensor is overwhelmed by light - for instance, when a flash picture is taken in poor light conditions any particles or insects close to the camera will reflect a lot of light back to the sensor, which is above the sensor's threshold; a white spot or blob results. This is also amplified by the fact that modern, smaller cameras have lens and flash positioned closer together, making the angle of reflection of the flash more likely to 'dazzle' the lens.


They point out also that where moving orbs are recorded on video camera, they often seem to meander in the manner of dust, or fly like an insect. Additionally, orbs are rarely claimed to have been seen by people in the room at the time without looking through the camera, which would indicate for instance that the orb is beyond the human visible light spectrum (digital cameras can record in the infrared spectrum), or that rather than being large and distant from the camera, the cause of orbs is small and close.


It may also be significant that in many places where ghost hunts occur, and orbs duly recorded, dust is a significant feature (old, creaky houses are very often dusty).


Believers in the paranormal explanations, however, argue that it is impossible to explain all such occurrences with a 'one-size-fits-all' explanation. Some have claimed to have seen orbs form with the naked eye, whilst others believe they have observed orbs acting intelligently. Sometimes an orb may seem to appear in a photograph or video in response to a cue such as the classic "is there anybody there?"; however, this may be due to 'confirmation bias', in that such claims do not control for occasions where an orb appears which is not in response to a cue. If orbs are appearing all the time, but we only look for them when we ask for a sign, they could be wrongly attributed with agency.


Most believers acknowledge that orb-like images can be caused by dust, insects and lens flare, but maintain that some are not. Since it is logically and practically difficult or impossible to prove a universal negative (i.e. that all orbs are caused by natural phenomena), the best approach would be for believers to find a way to show that some specific cases are caused by their alternative, supernatural, explanations. No conclusive example has yet been shown, though this may be due to the difficulty of finding a way to demonstrate supernatural origin unequivocally.


Proponents of the paranormal explanations often also point to the oddness of some orbs, some seeming to show internal structure or patterns, some showing different colours or 'auras', and some even appearing to contain faces or letters. Again sceptics explain this through showing either some detail of the object reflecting the orb; light refracting through or around the object, creating a prism effect; and 'pareidolia', the psychological effect which causes humans to perceive meaningful patterns or shapes in random noise (such as when we see a face in the grain of some wood, or animals in the clouds).


One of the easiest ways to replicate the orb phenomenon is to go down to a sandy beach at night, and take flash photographs; the sand particles, especially on a windy day, can create some very interesting looking orbs.

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