They’re not angels


Judging by the number of web sites dedicated to orbs, they fascinate many people. And yet, if you ask any serious paranormal researcher, they will dismiss most, if not all, orbs as photographic artifacts. Indeed, many of the web sites dedicated to orbs admit as much. So why do orbs continue to exert such interest?

One reason must be that they are relatively common and easy to produce. For every picture apparently showing a ghost, there must be thousands featuring orbs.

If someone shows you photos with ‘orbs’ and insists they’re angels or some divine phenomena, check the site above.  Or look at the Wikipedia entry.  Hell, just run a Google search and you’ll find dozens of websites not just debunking such photos but showing exactly how anybody can shoot them with nothing more than a cheap digital camera and easy-to-duplicate conditions.

In virtually every instance of people swearing they’ve captured pictures of angels or ghosts or half-phased plasma aliens or whatever, I can just about guarantee the following*:

  • The camera is a short focal-length small digital camera (not a D-SLR or 35mm film camera)
  • The picture was taken in low light conditions or at night
  • There is dust, rain, smoke, or fog in the air (usually it’s dust)
  • Flash was used (and on these small cameras, the flash unit is right next to the lens, providing maximum perpendicular reflection)

(*Notes: It is possible to create orb photos without flash, but these are more rare, requiring a strong light source (such as the sun) behind the camera.  Occasionally you can get lens flares or dust reflection images with SLR-style and larger cameras, but it’s harder and the fact it’s just an optical artifact is more patently obvious.  The odd semi-discernible patterns in the small camera-produced orbs are actually caused by the LCD chip and how it translates incoming out-of-focus photons into a recorded digital image; they’re not magical floating Om symbols or sacred geometry yantras.)

Seriously, if you show me a picture with a crowd at night, in the middle of a bark-shred covered field, and a bunch of reflection orbs above them, don’t expect me to dispense with my college-level education in photography, optics, physics, and the simple application of Occam’s Razor.  You’re just shooting a large cloud of dust particles, thrown up in the air by all those people shuffling around.  If it’s a big party or gathering, there will also be moisture from people’s breath and perspiration, rising in the heat generated by dozens of human bodies in close proximity.  The closest dust particles look big because they’re close and the most out-of-focus.

It’s not magic or a miracle — it’s science.  Not just an unproven hypothesis either, but a rational explanation which is demonstrable in a repeatable fashion using rigorous scientific methodology.  I trust the scientist who not only can explain to me why these orb images occur, but also why they have the specific features and visual artifacts they commonly display.

The other day I joked to my spouse that I ought to take my little Olympus digi-cam to the immense cattle pens near Coalinga, California, next to I-5.  Vast acres of bovines raising a cloud of dust so extensive it creates traffic hazards on the nearby highway if the winds are right (or wrong).  (It’s also a place where you really, really want to have your vehicle’s ventilation system set to recirculate… trust me on this.) “Oooh, look! Hundreds of angels for each cow!”  Yeah right…must be morbid angels, because that’s a beef processing facility.

Insisting such photos are full of angels or spirits hugely undermines a person’s credibility with those, like myself, who know how stuff actually works. You might as well be trying to persuade me that a team of giant invisible swans hauls the sun across the sky each day.  You want to believe it, go ahead — but don’t expect me to buy into your fantasy or to act like I’m amazed.

Furthermore, when someone espouses this kind of junk-science / pseudo-spiritualism as evidence supporting their belief systems, I am very unlikely to give credence to anything else this person might say, especially with regard to the rest of their non-scientific philosophical, religious or spiritual ideas, however sensible, enlightened or profound.

Why?  Because if someone insists I accept the miraculous origins of their ‘angel-orb’ pictures, despite the otherwise perfectly rational and scientifically provable explanations, how can I trust anything else they say?  I’ll be asking myself, ‘Are they just as credulous about their beliefs?  How do I know it isn’t all just something ridiculous they chose to believe without question, understanding, or proof?  Or maybe they’re just making it all up to see how much rank foolishness I’ll swallow…’

I can forgive an honest mistake or someone reaching the wrong conclusion because they did not have all the information.  But to continue to insist something is a miracle, magical, or paranormal in the face of obvious, rational evidence of ordinary-world science displays a degree of willful self-ignorance I simply won’t abide or tolerate.  I’ll tell you you’re wrong and why; if afterwards you still insist you’re still right, I’ll conclude you’re an idiot.  I may be kind enough not to tell you so to your face, but I guarantee it will be what I’m thinking.

If you’ve wandered here and happen to be one of the fervent angel-orb believers, and haven’t turned away in offended anger already, please allow me to pose a few questions to ponder:  First, exactly who told you the orbs were absolute evidence of something supernatural?  Are they an actual authority on the matter and can they prove their claims, or might they too have been misled by bad information and a desperate desire to believe in something ‘magical’ despite ample physical evidence to the contrary?  Secondly, do your deeply held spiritual beliefs truly depend on believing something that is easily debunked by anyone with the curiosity to perform a simple experiment and a willingness to learn a little about the physics of optics & digital cameras?

With so many actual, genuine miraculous events in the world, we really don’t need to make ourselves look foolish, uneducated, and disreputable by ignoring rational, accurate scientific explanations for ordinary, non-miraculous phenomena.  Even if it looks pretty.  Or happened in a place, at a time, when far more subtle and powerful miracles occurred well away from the error-prone reach of cheap digital cameras.

About Becca

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