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Enough with the Orbs Already

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A bright orb

A bright orb

While some insist that orbs represent some form of spirit energy, repeated experiments have shown that they are easily explained

THERE IS AN ongoing debate, or at least spirited discussion, among ghost hunters and paranormal investigators about the validity of orbs as paranormal evidence. Orbs are anomalous spots that sometimes show up in photographs. Most are white, some are multicolored; some look solid, others appear textured.

Many ghost hunters believe they are evidence of ghosts - that they are some kind of spirit or psychic energy manifesting as these glowing balls of light. A growing number of researchers, however, are concluding that orbs are nothing more than dust particles illuminated by the camera flash. Actually, researchers will usually say that "most" such orbs are the result of dust, being reluctant to say that "all" are dust, leaving room for the possibility of a paranormal explanation.

THE EXPERIMENTS

Countless experiments have now been conducted showing that dusty areas do produce orbs in flash photographs. (See Orbs and Artifacts among many other web articles for the technical details.) Small insects, rain, snow, pollen and other airborne particulates can also produce them. These experiments were designed to show that these airborne elements can be the cause of orbs and may not necessarily be ghost phenomena.

I applaud these efforts, but the essential question, it seems to me, is: How did orbs in photographs become associated with ghost phenomena in the first place? In other words, why do they even need to be disproved? Yes, anomalous white spots occasionally appear in photos... How do we suddenly make the great leap to say that they are spirit energy? That's quite a leap. And an erroneous one, in my estimation.

PARANORMAL ASSUMPTION

I suspect this is how it came about.

Most people do not take photographs in very dark locations, either indoors or outdoors. The people who do this on a regular basis, however, are ghost hunters. Skulking around abandoned buildings and cemeteries at night with their digital cameras, you will hear them announce "Flash" (to warn fellow ghost hunters) as they snap dozens of pictures.

Of course, they did not see any luminous orbs of light with their naked eyes when they took the pictures, but there in many of the photos - plain as day against the relatively dark background - are brightly glowing orbs. The ghost hunters are in a possibly haunted location… the orbs were invisible to the eye… yet they show up in the photos… they must be something paranormal, they conclude. They must be spirit energy.

I belong to a ghost hunting group, so I know how eager members are to find evidence of a haunting. Seeing that unexpected orb in a photo gets them excited. "Proof!"

Well, hardly, I'm sorry to say. Real ghost evidence is darn hard to come by and has proved devilishly difficult to document. Orbs, unfortunately, have become all-too-easy things to point to as evidence when they are most certainly nothing of the kind. The experiments with dust and insects have shown that clearly.

A COMMON ANOMALY

"Well, then why do orbs show up in ghost hunting photographs? Why don't they show up in everyday pictures?" I have heard ghost hunters make that argument.

The fact is, they do show up in everyday pictures - quite frequently. I receive dozens of such photos every month from readers. The photos are not from ghost hunts, but from birthday parties, sports events, holidays - the usually things people take pictures of. They contain the same wide variety of orbs - white, colored, textured and seemingly moving - as those taken in cemeteries and haunted houses.

It could be argued that these everyday pictures are also capturing spirit activity, but of course there's no way to prove that. The simpler explanation is that it's just dust.

Again, these orbs tend to show up more prominently in ghost hunting photographs because they are usually taken in a darkened environment and they stand out more clearly against the dark background. But they do show up under normal lighting conditions, even if more faintly.

And what of moving orbs caught on video? The ones I've seen can most easily be explained as flying insects and, yes, floating motes of dust.

PLEASE, NO MORE

So at this point I am willing to dismiss all orb photos as non-paranormal anomalies. There seems to be no compelling reason to consider them as anything but dust and such. There are much more interesting and mysterious areas of ghost research to occupy our time and resources - such as electronic voice phenomena.

Let's not waste any more speculation on orbs. Enough already.

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