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 Articles ~ Skeptics Corner ~ Orbs

Section 1 (Orbs and how they are created)

Orbs are a very controversial item in the paranormal investigation field. The fact is that all "orbs" are caused by dust, water droplets or other airborne particles. There's dust in the air all the time, even if you can't see it. The amount and type of dust varies a lot and depends on many factors, including source, climate, wind direction and activity.

Dust is generated from a range of human activities and natural sources. It may be made up of soil, pollen, volcanic emissions, vehicle exhaust, smoke, or any other particles small enough to be suspended or carried by wind. The stronger the wind, the larger the particles lifted, and the more dust carried. Clean rooms are used for testing purposes where dust must be monitored to ensure that no data is contaminated. They have classifications that are standardized classes based on airborne particle counts. For example, a class 100 clean room can have 750 particles per cubic foot that measure 0.2 µm, 300 at 0.3 µm and so on. If clean rooms can have that many particles in the air, think of what a typical living area may have.
Another common misconception is that orbs are caused by dust in the camera or on the lens. This is false, as dust orbs are caused by airborne dust particles directly in front of the camera lens.

So how does this happen?

UV light from your camera's flash illuminates the dust and is then recorded by the camera's CCD. The same phenomena can occur in NightShot video, except this time is light from the IR emitter bouncing off the airborne particles.

The image on the left shows how dust approaching the inverted focal point of the lens look more like an orb. The camera lens's inverted focal point is the point that an object must be past to be in-focus. The closer they get to the lens the more they blur and become less distinct while dust particles near the focal point appear to be in focus and show apparent details such as a nucleus and rings (this is discussed in the next section). Dust past the focal point may or may not be recorded and if they are they simply look like white specks of light in your photograph. This is illustrated by the lower left picture. The crucial factor in the equation is the UV light source from your camera's flash. Digital cameras are sensitive to the UV and IR spectrums of light and this is why digital cameras are more likely to capture "orbs' than 35mm cameras. Snow, rain and pollen are also subject to this type of photographic effect.

This problem is compounded by the fact that digital cameras have an extended depth of field, which makes airborne particles even more visible than 35mm cameras. The circle of confusion, an optical spot caused by a cone of light rays from a lens not coming to a perfect focus when imaging a point source, is yet another factor that can cause "orbs".

Lens flare is another phenomena that can cause orb like images. A camera lens has a number of elements that work together to focus an image onto film. The insides of lenses are coated with an anti-reflective material to help reduce the amount of secondary reflections known as ghost. In the case where bright lights are facing the lens, the lens coating is not fully effective and secondary reflections occur producing what are known as lens flares. You can learn more about lens flares here.

Section 2. Debunking orbs in photographs using science.

Huygen's Principle predicts the future position of a wave when its earlier position is known. "Every point on a wave front can be considered as a source of tiny wavelets that spread out in the forward direction at the speed of the wave itself. The new wave front is the envelope of all the wavelets - that is, tangent to them." This principle explains what happens when a wave hits an obstacle and the wave fronts are partially obstructed. It predicts that waves bend behind an obstacle, or diffract. Since diffraction only occurs for waves, not for particles, it verifies the wave nature of light.

Diffraction is the spreading of light around the edges of a barrier. These form patterns called diffraction rings. In diffraction, the intensity of the bright lines (or fringes) is greatest for the central bright spot and decreases for the higher orders.

Except for the central bright spot, the position of the fringe depends upon the wavelength of light. As Young found, the central bright spot appears as the original, undiffracted light. The higher order fringes, contain a spectrum of the light colors comprising the original light. Their position depends upon their wavelength. Young proved that one color of light is distinguished from another color by wavelength.

Dust orbs have certain characteristics, such as possessing some sort of nucleus, and elongation around the central axis towards the edges of the photos. These are the diffraction rings. A simple way of thinking about it is to consider a drop of water hitting a pond. Ripples are produced as the drop strikes the pond's surface. Light behaves in a similar fashion. The problem is that the ability to see the diffraction rings is dependent on the resolution of the photograph and if the "orb" is in focus (not to close to the lens). The image on the left shows a typical diffraction ring pattern that is found in dust particles.

When light interferes, the light waves produce alternating bright and dark bands of colors (interference fringes); nodal lines appear as dark bands and antinodal lines appear as bright bands. Violet light (with the shortest wavelength) is the least diffracted and red light (with the longest wavelength)is the most diffracted.

Angstrom: 1 A = 1 x 10-10 m

1. Spectrum types: Continuous
* produced by white light
* contains all the colors in the rainbow
* red light is diffracted the most and blue (violet) light is diffracted the least

2. Absorption (dark line)
* consists of dark lines on a continuous spectrum background
* energy is absorbed at characteristic frequencies

3. Emission (bright line)

4. Energy is emitted at characteristic frequencies

Generally speaking, if you see diffraction rings, it is definitely dust as this phenomena occurs (in a photographic sense) only in very small and microscopic objects.
There are other signs to look for as well.
A corona is produced by diffraction of light by small particles. Every point on the illuminated surface is a source of scattered outgoing spherical waves ( Huygens-Fresnel Principle ).
Scattering from only two points is shown on the diagram. Along the central axis, the incident light direction, the crests of the two scattered waves always coincide to form a region where the light is strong.

Moving away from the axis, there is a direction where the crests again coincide to give beams of enhanced brightness at an angle to the incident light. In between there is a region where crests of one wave coincide with those of opposite amplitude of the other. The two waves cancel and there is darkness in those directions.

There is a another coincidence of wave crests at a larger angle and the light intensity is again enhanced. With increasing angular distance from the axis there are alternating bright and dark regions, a diffraction pattern.

In reality, light is scattered from all around the particle periphery and other low intensity waves arise from reflection and transmission through the particle. The net wave amplitude at any point is the sum of the amplitude vectors, not intensities, of all the individual waves. The result is a very bright central region surrounded by less bright rings, a corona.

Corona formation, to a good approximation, needs no knowledge of the particle's interior because the surface scattered waves predominate. It could be water, ink or coal - the pattern is almost the same. It depends primarily on the particle's size, shape and the wavelength of the light.

There is no need for the particle to be transparent nor even spherical. Small ice crystals, pollen grains and large dust particles all form corona. A white light corona is the sum of all the corona contributions from each spectral color.
Usually there will be more than one dust orbs in the photos, and you get them most of the time at the location. Note that dust orbs are more likely to show up in a large number when you disturb the environment, such as when you just step into an empty room. You can analyze this effect in an image editing program by simply increasing the brightness of the photo.

Optical Effects

A. Particle is overexposed by camera flash and/or in the camera's circle of confusion. No diffraction rings are visible.

B. Particle (pollen spore) is outside of the circle of confusion and far enough away from the lens to be in focus.

C. Particle is in motion and is within the camera's circle of confusion.

D and E. Particle colors are determined by the spectral wavelengths that they can refract. Generally, blue particles are refracting Ultraviolet light while red ones are refracting a greater degree of infrared light. Photoluminescence and the optics of the camera are also factors that can affect colors.

Some photographs show geometric shapes, such as diamonds and octagon . This is caused by a lens curvature error known as "Coma", cameras with very small lenses and short focal lengths (such as digital cameras) are more prone to coma than other cameras with longer focal length lenses, such as SLR cameras.

When an object with a similar shape as the aperture of the camera lens is brought out-of-focus, the object will begin to take the shape of the aperture. In other words, if the aperture of the camera is an octagon, an out-of-focus dust orb will begin to take the shape of an octagon, particularly towards the center of the image.

Summary: "Orbs" are not ghosts!

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