Paranormal Orbs: More Normal Than You Think

Have you ever visited a location alleged to be “haunted,” camera in hand, and upon reviewing photographs taken in the area, found what appeared to be glowing balls of light hovering in the environment?

For years, those who have studied paranormal phenomenon have argued that these strange objects are evidence of actual ghostly presences, transferred onto film (or digital images) via the same electromagnetic process that allows popular devices used for EM-field detection to register in old houses–but could their ultimate cause be the presence of supernatural energies?

Debate regarding the plausibility of the strange little “orbs” has continued for years, but now one group says they have been able to determine once and for all that the objects in question aren’t ghosts, bizarre energies, or anything out of this world.

The ParaScience organization has released a detailed report at its website which makes the assertion that what we see when apparent little balls of light show up in photographs are actually dust and tiny airborne objects:

“This comprehensive survey strongly supports the hypothesis that orbs are simply the result of dust and other airborne material drifting close to the camera and reflecting the flash illumination back toward the image sensor and provides long overdue definitive evidence that their origin lies firmly within the mundane and explainable, not the paranormal or supernatural.”

I too was initially skeptical about orb-related phenomenon, and after studying the subject for close to a decade (including time spent with the L.E.M.U.R. team between 2004 and 2010), I remain certain these strange little photographic anomalies are only that: anomalies specific to film, rather than invisible denizens of another realm that become apparent only when struck by the flash of a camera. Insects, dust and fragments of tiny airborne debris are the likely (and some would say obvious) culprits… but there are still differing perspectives on this.

For instance, on one occasion years ago, I had the chance to question a college professor named Dr. Lee Swendsen Ph.D. about the phenomenon. Swendsen was also a member of a skeptical organization called CSICOP, which since that time has changed its acronym to CSI which, more simply, stands for “The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.” Regardless, their focus and mission have not changed, and I thought that picking Swendsen’s brain about the bizarre objects appearing in the photos I had taken might be fruitful (keep in mind, I had been using a film camera, since at the time digital photography was not yet the respected norm it has become today). Reviewing the photos, Swendsen’s on-the-spot analysis surprised me: “I wouldn’t say that these ‘orbs’ represent anything ghostly,” he told me. “But I don’t think it can very easily be ruled out that they might indicate the presence of some kind of energy.” Whatever was appearing in the photos, he believed it was energetic, and that the camera was perceiving it as such.

Others have acknowledged the fact that dust particles are indeed the primary cause, but that electromagnetic anomalies in some areas cause tiny concentrations of bits of dust and other airborne matter, which are more likely to become prevalent when illuminated by flashes from a camera. Even if the source of the so-called “orbs” is rather mundane, could there be any scientific elements associated with their presence that remains mysterious? Could electromagnetism and geomagnetic activity affect concentrations of airborne dust in ways other than those we’d expect, or must we accept that the mysterious “orbs” just aren’t very mysterious after all?

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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