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What are "Orbs"?

Updated on January 30, 2017
Photograph showing multiple "orbs".
Photograph showing multiple "orbs". | Source

An orb is a roughly spherical light that appears photographs taken with the use of a flash (although some claim to be able to see them with the naked eye).

Unlike many paranormal phenomenon they have a very short history, arising in the 1990s. Mythology surround orbs emerged with the widespread availability of cameras.

By 2000 these orbs were associated not only with places obviously associated with spirits and ghost like old homes and graveyards, but also many other unusual locations including crop circles (Nickell, 2013).

Also known as: plasmas, energy balls, spheres.

Examples

The Paranormal Explanation

Orbs appearing in pictures of reputed haunted locations are explained more generally as balls of energy, or more specifically as ghosts, a portal they use to enter the physical world or energy being gathered to allow this to happen.

Various more specific interpretations have sprung up. For example it has been claimed that the position of the orb shows the relationship between the person and the "spirit". Or that they will move about according to requests.

The Skeptical Explanation

Orbs only seem to occur with flash photography (Peterson, 2013). As such they can be explained as the light of the flash reflecting off particles in the air such as dust or rain, also known as "back scatter".

The clear existence of back scatter artifacts means that even those who believe in mystical orbs will concede that up to 90% of photographs are not paranormal in nature.

It seems strange to me that supernatural events are generally seen as something you experience directly--resistant to empirical measurement. But on the other had there is a strong stand of belief that technology like photography is a conduit for revelations.*

* Spirits, Apparitions, and Traditions of Supernatural Photography

Straw Man Skepticism

Sometimes those who support paranormal explanations explain away implausible skeptical explanations. The problem is that no one actually suggested orbs are caused by issues such as dirt on the lens.

While some people say they can, through special talent of training, see orbs with the naked eyes (Donder, 2012)--which would suggest they are more than a lens artifact--it has never been confirmed that what they claim to see lines up with what can be captured by camera.

The appearance of orbs deliberately produced by photographing rain
The appearance of orbs deliberately produced by photographing rain

The Winner

In this case I find the technical explanation of back-scatter to be completely convincing. Paranormal experiences are often subjective and as such inaccessible. But orbs are not seen by the person at the scene. They appear only in the camera and unlike the human mind we known exactly how an image forms int the camera.

This paranormal explanations of this phenomenon are very unconvincing. I don't doubt that people sincerely feel they are seeing a paranormal phenomena but there is not evidence for this explanation and a completely sound mundane explanation available,

If you think you have any orb pictures taken in conditions where backscatter could not occur (e.g. where a flash was not used) I would love to see them.

What Do you Think?

Orbs are....

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References

  • Peterson, Dawn M. "Mysterious Beings or Mere Accidents?." Skeptical Inquirer (2013).
  • Nickell, Joe. "Circular Reasoning: The ‘Mystery’of Crop Circles and Their ‘Orbs’ of Light." Skeptical Inquirer (2013).
  • Peterson, Dawn M. "Mysterious Beings or Mere Accidents?." Skeptical Inquirer (2013).
  • Wood, D. (2007). A LIFE LESS ORBINARY? Accounts of Experimentation into the Natural Causes of "Orbs‟. Journal of Research Into the Paranormal, 40, 17-37 [pdf]

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      Juninho 2 years ago

      nothing. We went back upstairs and S connutied to show us around. Then we approached a chain hanging and S pulled it down. It led to the attic. The moment the attic opened there was a very disconcerting feeling and P and I both became very uneasy. We climbed the stairs. S asked if we were ok (I guess I had a weird look on my face) and I told her I didn't like the feeling I was getting up here.The attic looked ribbed like the inside of a ship. All the beams seemed to be held in place by wooden pegs or square nails. There sounded like wind blowing through (sort of like wind howling) although there was no wind. We pressed further into the attic. There were all sorts of boxes up there, left by the previous owner. I marveled at this wonderful looking dresser and expressed what a wonderful piece it was. The overhead light only lit the area directly under it, casting shadows everywhere. In the corner was a very old Singer sewing machine. The kind that uses a foot peddle to operate. I really wanted to to look at it but I got a weird feeling from that corner and it was far from the light so I couldn't see the area well.It was at this time that P said she didn't feel well and couldn't stay up there. We walked her downstairs and asked if S's aunt had a flashlight. She did not but gave us a candle (in a candle holder) and told us to be careful with it. She didn't want us to burn the place down. LOL. P did not want us to go back upstairs. We told her we'd be fine and left.Once back upstairs S and I started to look through the boxes. We put the candle on the dresser since that was the most stable place. The boxes had run of the mill stuff. Suddenly we heard this weird sounding version of how dry I am and we exchanged looks. What the hell? We walked over to where the sound was coming from. It was a box and we rummaged through it until we found a decanter with what appeared to be a music box attached. It was the type you wind and it has a metal drum with spikes that trigger metal tines to play music. We both smiled figuring that we must have disturbed it and that was why it was playing. The music stopped immediately as I touched it and when I flipped it over we discovered the actual mechanism was missing. We both couldn't believe it and went through the box thinking the mechanism had to be in there and just fallen out when I picked it up. It was not. I remember saying to her, You heard that right? It was playing when I touched it, wasn't it? We were both a little freaked to say the least and I kept getting this very weird feeling we were being watched from the corner. At that moment we heard something fall down the stairs. It sounded like it hit every step. We both peered over the edge and it was some kind of round wooden puzzle toy. I said, where the hell did that come from? We both knew we had not hit anything to cause it to fall. In fact we had not even seen that anywhere. A cold breeze blew past us giving us both goose bumps when suddenly from downstairs we heard P scream out for us.We bolted from the attic down 2 flights of stairs to the living room. We pretended that it was just to see what was happening but honestly we were afraid of the attic and what was starting to happen up there.We asked P what the problem was and she said she felt like we had been in grave danger. She started to cry and we consoled her saying ok we won't go back up. Then S's aunt asked us where the candle was. We exchanged looks. It's upstairs and it's lit. We knew we had to go back upstairs.We both climbed the wooden stairs and I reached out for the candle on the dresser except it wasn't there. I looked at S. What the? She shrugged and we scanned the attic. Over on the Singer sewing machine sat the candle. There was a plume of smoke coming from the wick as if it had just been blown out. We exchanged frightened looks. I said, I'm not getting that. Hell you couldn't pay me to go over there. It's out. I say leave it and let your uncle get it.? She nodded pulled the string to turn the light off and we flew down the stairs. I don't think I actually touched the stairs. I was so frightened once the light went out that I was sure something was gonna grab us. We didn't even put the ladder up. We figured S's uncle could do that too.When we got downstairs we told P and S's aunt what had happened. S's aunt said, that settles it I'm telling my husband we have to sell this place. We left and took several polaroid photos of the outside. The next day the photos showed what appeared to be a figure in the attic window. S asked if she could take the photos and show her aunt uncle. I said yes but the next day when she came to work she showed me the photos and the figure had mysteriously disappeared. I remember S telling me that after months of her uncle trying to convince her aunt it was ok that he relented and sold the house.I always look back at this event as one of my very first ghost hunts'. Long before it was cool and popular to do so we had been brave enough to conduct an investigation.Look for my next experience story very soon Barb