The Orb Phenomenon

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By extension, one can infer that pollen grains and aerosol particles can also cause such images. These types of particulate matter are also floating in the atmosphere at various concentrations that depend upon the geographic location, whether inside or outside a building, the time of year, the temperature, wind, etc. For example, near a wooded area small particles from plants and trees could float in the air at higher concentrations than in areas where there are no trees or plants. Fine dirt particles, such as from a road or dry, sandy area, can be stirred up by wind or human activities (automobiles) and could be suspended in the air for considerable amounts of time and be transported over considerable distances. This could explain the geographic dependence of the phenomenon. Of course the photographer would not normally notice these particles during the time of the flash because the photographer would be looking through the viewfinder. Even with a single lens reflex camera (that allows the photographer to look through the lens) the photographer would not see the particles during the time of the flash because the "reflex mirror" within the camera moves to a location that blocks the view through the camera while the photo is being taken.

After reading what my correspondent wrote I decided to carry out my own experiments. Figure 1 shows the result of one particular experiment. Figure 2 shows how one can be fooled into thinking that an "anomalous source" of the anomalous image is far from the camera lens. The arrow points toward a small, bluish disk that appears to be partially occulted (blocked) by the archway structure. If one were to assume that the image was actually caused by an object on the far side of the structure, about 20 feet away, then one could calculate that the object was several inches in diameter. However, the object which caused that image was actually only a dust grain close to the camera and the apparent blockage of the image by the structure is an illusion. The faint bluish image can be seen at the right side of the vertical support of the arch because it is silhouetted against perfect blackness. The portion of the circular image that overlaps the structural member cannot be detected because its low brightness was overwhelmed by that of the structure.

Figure 1 shows only a portion of the complete outdoor photo of anomalous images. Figure 3 shows the complete photo. Very obvious in the upper left corner is a whitish cloud or "jumble" of circular images, some resembling soap bubbles, some resembling white discs and others being the circular, diffuse or transparent "anomalous images" of varying sizes and brightness. This cloud is actually a large "puff" of spackle dust (dust from dry spackling compound that I had sanded off a wall I was repairing) that I blew into the air a few inches in front of the camera just before taking the flash picture with a Kodak "throw away" camera. By the time of the flash some of the particles had drifted to the right and appear silhouetted against the archway, automobile, ground and (dark) sky. The date of the photo was January 13, 2000, and the location was in Maryland, so there was no pollen or dust in the atmosphere other than the spackle dust.

In examining this picture one finds many of the characteristics of typical "anomalous circular images." Most are faint and bluish in color but some are bright white. The diameters range from very small up to some maximum size.

Figure 4 shows an indoor picture with lots of anomalous images, including some elongated images that seem to indicate downward motion of the reflective particles during the duration of the flash. This was taken with a Model 600 Polaroid so the elongation is a result of the shape of the aperture and does not indicate motion during the short time of the flash. The astute observer will be able to find several dozen anomalous images in this photo which was created by holding the camera about one inch above the floor, by hitting the rug with one hand and then quickly taking the flash picture with the other hand. The presence of dust in the atmosphere near the floor after the rug had been hit was verified by using the very bright beam from a slide projector to provide constant illumination of the atmosphere just above the rug. This illumination is sufficiently bright to make visible tiny dust particles in the air. (Evidently one could test for the presence of dust and pollen at any geographical location by shining a powerful beam of light through the atmosphere.)

One may conclude from these experiments that at least some and perhaps many (all?) of the anomalous circular (and other shaped) images which have been reported in to appear only in flash pictures recent years are, in fact, images caused by tiny reflective particles which float in the air (or perhaps insects flying past the lens). But this raises the above-mentioned question, why haven't they been noticed before, i. e. in previous decades? My answer, which must be considered as conjecture, divides into two parts. The first part is that there probably have been anomalous images of this sort in pictures before, but they were few and far between and considered to be merely occasional film flaws. The second part of my answer is that the newer photographic equipment is somewhat different from that available in previous decades in (at least) two ways. The first is the proximity of the flash unit to the lens, on the small cameras especially, being only 2 -3 inches away, whereas in decades past the flash units were typically 5 or more inches from the lens. The second is the greater distance over which flash pictures can be taken, a result of increased film sensitivity or "speed" (ISO 400 or 800 film in recyclable cameras, for example) or use of a "focal plane detector array" (the charge coupled device - CCD - which, in a digital camera or videocamera, plays the role of film) and a result of increased brightness of the flash itself. The overall increase in sensitivity and flash brightness results in images of objects up to 30 ft from the camera, whereas in the past one was lucky to get a good flash picture at 20 ft (or even as low as 10 ft). The decreased distance between the flash and the lens means that the edge of the illuminated volume of space in front of the camera (or the edge of the "beam" from the flash) passes very close to the lens. Experiments with a recyclable camera showed that there was useable flash illumination at a distance of only 2 cm from the lens. Hence any particulate matter that happens to be within a few cm of the lens will be more brightly lit nowadays than it would have been in decades past. It is my conjecture that this combination of the particular matter close to the lens being more brightly lit and the film (or CCD) being more sensitive in the present decade than it was in past decades accounts for the "newness" of this phenomenon.

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© copyright B. Maccabee, 2000. All rights reserved.