Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Skeptical at Work: Orbs

[ the "Skeptical at Work" concept was stolen from created by the awesome Skeptigirl blog. This edition's subject is an easy target, but maybe it'll be the start of something continuing. ]

So, among other things, my place of employment hosts some extensive convention space. Since booking was WAY down due to the economy, the suits took the opportunity to do some significant renovation.

Walls are coming down. Ceilings are gone, construction materials are EVERYWHERE. Everything is dirty.

Yesterday, I was sitting at my desk when two of my coworkers, "Tyler" and "Jane," were freaking out about something: "Oh my god! That's so creepy!" (and so forth.)

It turns out Tyler had been going aorund taking pictures of the carnage wrought upon the meeting space with his new camera, and was shocked to discover that the pictures he'd just taken were filled with ghost orbs!

Immediately, my skeptical ears rose up as I overheard the conversation:

Tyler: "You know they're real because they're in a different position in every shot." (Presumably, this was to explain that they weren't due to something on the lens.)

Jane: "Look at this one! He's in ALL of them!"

Tyler: "I'm creeped out now. I didn't know this place was haunted."

HE? We're already assigning gender to these spots of light? Haunted? Because of some spots on his photos? Time for me to put on my skeptic's hat.

So, what are orbs? What are some reasonable explanations for seeing them in photos taken of a darkened room filled with construction debris?

Ghost orbs or spirit orbs, for those unfamiliar with them, are light spots showing up on photographs of varying size, color and intensity.

What causes them?

For a hint at the answer, check out the many, many orbs captured in this photo taken at my New Year's Eve party immediately after midnight, January 1 of this year:
multi-color ghost orbsThe conditions of this photo were not unlike those in the event space where Tyler found the orbs: it was dark (just blacklight and disco ball, baby), so the camera's flash was on... And there was a lot of debris in the air. In this case, festive, multicolor debris that I'm still vacuuming up to this day.

The International Ghost Hunters Society , who claims to have coined the term in 1994 (probably true, just covering my bases), says spirit orbs "[represent] the soul of a departed person... the essence of who they were in life, complete with their intelligence, their emotions and their personality."

Here's an image from the IGHS claimed to be a "spirit orb":

Here's the interesting bit... Interesting to me, anyway... The IGHS site acknowledges that all orbs are not ghosts or spirits, and that many (some, like myslef, would say "all") are reflections of light from (or occasionally refraction through) dust particles, typically from the camera's flash. The following image, from the same page as that above, is claimed by the IGHS as the result of NON-ghostly dust particles:

These "dust orbs" look nearly identical to the "spirit orbs" above, and yet one is claimed to be a supernatural manifestation of a spirit. In the second image, there are several "orbs," so there was likely a lot of dust or debris in the air... but other than that, what?

In the end, that's all ghost orbs are: Dust. Nearby crap hanging in the air that happens to shoot the flash's light back at the lens. Since the lens is not focused on them, their image is blurry, thus an "orb."

Want to capture some orbs yourself? Go out at night. Take some pictures with the flash on. Maybe you'll get something, maybe not. Try kicking some dirt up at your feet. Now? Great. Now turn your flash off. Go through the same steps. Find any orbs? Nope, didn't think so.

1 comment:

Kimbo Jones said...

Jesus H. Christ, how many people died at your party?! :)