Monday, 22 December 2014

White floating thing

MoonI stood by a busy road staring into a dark field at night. At first I could see nothing but then, there it was - a white shape floating over the field. I was about to write 'silently' but with lots of traffic just behind me, the scene was anything but quiet. There was, however, no obvious noise coming from the floating white shape that flitted over the field. A spooky white shape floating over a field just has to be  a ghost, surely?

A floating white shape is certainly one popular image of a ghost. However, most reports of ghosts involve perfectly normal, solid-looking human figures firmly attached to the ground. So while my floating white shape might have looked like a typical ghost from a movie, it wasn't like the ones reported by most witnesses.

The white shape certainly wasn't mist, which has often been reported as a cause of ghost reports. The shape, which changed often, was moving around far too quickly for that. It was, in fact, a Barn Owl. In daylight it's unlikely anyone would see a Barn Owl in flight as anything other than a bird. But at night, illuminated only by street lights or the moon, it can appear ethereal and eerie.

I'm not sure where the idea of ghosts as white floating things, often transparent, comes from. It is, however,interesting that the idea persists in popular culture, despite the evidence from real ghost reports.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Strange flashing light

Pepper's ghost reflectionThere was no sound just a strange flashing in my peripheral vision. I looked down to where the light was coming from but could see no obvious cause. Then I noticed a clear plastic bag on the floor that had not been there before. Experiments showed that, as it fell, it reflected light from a nearby bulb as a series of flashes. Is there no end to weird stuff caused by normal stuff?

Clear plastic bags are particularly good at producing strange effects. They blend in well with their background and so are often not noticed. But they can reflect strongly from a light source when at the correct angle. So, a clear plastic bag on the floor of a dimly lit room might be invisible until an observer moves. Then it might reflect a light source strongly, but briefly, while the witness is moving. The result is an unexplained light or flash. Even if the scene is examined closely at the time, the plastic bag may not seem to be an obvious source of an unexplained light.

When clear plastic bags are new they have very flat surfaces. But they soon acquire wrinkles after use. These wrinkles can produce multiple highlights which might together form a shape, maybe even suggesting a glowing face. Coloured plastic bags aren't so prone to producing odd light effects. They tend to be less shiny and don't blend in to their background like the clear ones.

The photo shows a printed plastic slide in front of tiles. It is strongly reflecting a nearby light source. See here for more on reflections.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Record everything!

 Crows in a treeIt is a flashbulb memory of mine. I am walking along a back street, coming home from an ASSAP meeting. I particularly remember the buildings nearby, though I'm not sure how accurately. It was in the early days of ASSAP and I'd just heard details of a couple of on-going cases. Although there was still much work to be done on them, both sounded, at first sight, to be unassailably paranormal. It felt as though we were on the verge of a breakthrough - definitive evidence of the paranormal!

I expect other paranormal researchers have had similar moments. As you will no doubt have guessed, things did not pan out quite as I expected. There is a big problem with relying on case evidence to demonstrate the paranormal and it is this. Over time, once the case is finished, people will look at the case report and ask questions about it. There are two main types of questions that cause problems. Firstly, there are questions about natural explanations that the original investigators could have checked for but never considered at the time. Secondly, there are new possible natural explanations that the original investigators would not even have known to check for. An example of the second type is misperception. Until recently, misperception would only have been considered a realistic likely natural cause for particular cases, like a shop dummy or washing on a line being mistaken for a human figure. Now we know that misperception can occur with poorly-seen trees, which can appear to some people like human figures, complete with clothes, hair and particular facial expressions! So the range of objects to be considered for misperception has expanded hugely. It's unlikely anyone would have considered a tree as the likely cause of someone seeing a ghost in the early days of ASSAP.

Once a case has been investigated, it can be difficult, or impossible, to go back and check for natural causes that weren't considered, or even known about, at the time of the original report. The witnesses may no longer be around, or if they are, their memory may have changed over time. The scene of the original incidents may have been altered. Entire buildings may not even be there any more. All of this means that unanswerable questions concerning a case gradually accumulate over time, until it can no longer be considered a plausible demonstration of the paranormal. I've learned that is not a good idea to expect cases, however strong they may appear at first sight, to support the existence of the paranormal.

Is there anything that can be done about this problem? Obviously, we can use xenonormal studies to greatly improve knowledge of possible natural causes and ways to test for them. This diminishes the problem but it does not entirely eliminate it.

One possible solution is to adopt a 'record everything' approach to investigations, to try and capture every detail, whether apparently relevant or not. In other words, we would record more information than just the obvious minimum that might appear necessary to eliminate natural causes. Then this information could be stored digitally and reanalyzed later as questions about the case arose. I can think of some classic cases that I'd love to reanalyze if only such additional information was available. I'm sure some of my questions about these cases could be answered easily if only this information was available.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Lumpy horizon

Sea UFOI love examining strange photos! I like taking strange photos even more. However, I never thought the photo (right) odd in any way when I took it. This photo (right), like the one in 8 Dec post, is also from the seaside.

Perhaps surprisingly, the picture shows the horizon, with a calm sea below and yellow sky above. So what are those odd-looking 'lumps' on the horizon? Some appear to be floating above the sea with a visible gap beneath. This picture is tightly cropped, from a much larger photo, to show the oddities on the horizon. These ragged lumps continue right across the horizon in the original photo, and occur in other shots taken at the same time. I've compared the horizon with other photos taken around the same location on other occasions. In those other photos the horizon looks flat, just as you might expect.

So what are these odd lumps? One possibility is large waves. However, they don't look like waves and the sea was calm. So what about clouds? There ARE some clouds in this, and other, photos taken at the same time. They are all yellow or white, no dark ones at all. Indeed, the yellow above the horizon in this photo IS cloud. All the lumps occur are ONLY on the horizon, unlike other clouds present. What about boats? The gaps under some of the lumps would appear to rule boats out.

Sea horizonI think the big clue is that the lumps are the same colour as the sea below. In other words, the ARE the sea! I think the lumps are a mirage of the sea itself. The second photo is of exactly the same place (you might be able to make out a distant gull, top right, in both images). The second photo (right) was taken just 0.15s after the first. The lumps have altered noticeably in that short period. This rapid variability, on its own, effectively rules out boats, clouds and waves. But it does fit with mirages which can change rapidly due to turbulence in the air.

Such horizon mirages can sometimes produce spectacular images of objects beyond the horizon, like boats or islands, that appear to float entirely in the air. They can give rise to reports of UFOs or ghost ships. For more mirages, see here.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Strange light

Ball of lightI love examining strange photos! I like taking strange photos even more. However, I never thought the photo (right) odd in any way when I took it. So, I was a bit surprised when, viewing it later, I found a mysterious ball of light in it.

It isn't an orb, being too bright and its edges not well-defined. Nor does it appear to be lens flare, because there was no bright light source just outside the frame. Nor does it look like typical lens flare. So, is it really a floating ball of light? Here are the clues to what is going on.

It would help, of course, to know what the photo is actually of. It is an eroded bed of chalk on a beach. There are several flat, white areas on the knobbly surface. These are pools of water, left by by the retreating tide. The shadows on the knobbly bits of chalk are all facing the camera. That means the sun was directly ahead.

Now it becomes obvious that the 'ball of light' is actually a reflection of the sun in a small pool of water. It is over-exposed, which is why there is no detail in the 'ball of light'. The photo was actually deliberately overexposed (by 2 stops) for effect but I never realised there was a reflection of the sun in shot. It was unintentional and ruined the intended effect. It will make do as an illustration of what a mysterious floating ball of light might look like, however.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Explaining orbs

Diamond-shaped orbsMany paranormal researchers now accept that orbs are not paranormal. But this doesn't stop orbs being reported by members of the public all the time. To them, orbs are new and mysterious. Though we have a lot about orbs on this website, I felt there was a need for a new page that provided an introduction to the subject. It is aimed at people who have just seen their first orb and are curious about what's going on. In the past, when asked about orbs I've had to give links to several different pages, none of which is aimed at total beginners. Now, I can use just one link - here.

I've added a brand new photo illustrating the orb zone using screws (!). I've thought about producing such a photo for a long time but, as with so many things in life, never quite got round to it until it became urgent. The photo shows how orbs vary in brightness and size according to their position within the zone.

The photo (above right) shows some diamond-shaped orbs. Such non-circular orbs are one of the important indicators that orbs are a phenomenon caused by the camera itself rather than the object being photographed, such as a dust particle. That's because all orbs photographed by a particular camera are always the same shape. If orbs were a phenomenon external to the camera, this should not happen.

Monday, 1 December 2014

No UFO but green blob instead

Green lens flareI took the photo because it looked like a UFO. There was a bright light apparently floating low in the twilight sky. The photo (right) turned out to be a disappointment as far as UFOs were concerned. My supposed UFO is the small bright light on the left. In the photo you can clearly see it is a mounted artificial light on a post. The whole scene looked much darker to the naked eye and the post was invisible. The brighter light to the right is also mounted on a post, even though it isn't obvious from the photo.

When I examined the photo itself I noticed something I hadn't seen at the time - a bright green glowing blob in the bottom left. It's clearly an anomaly but what is it? The vital clue is the presence of the two bright light sources in the frame. The blob is lens flare. I don't know of any bright green glowing ghosts, outside fiction, but if they exist they might look like this. If anyone knows of any reports of green glowing ghosts I'd be very interested to hear from them.

Interestingly, the lens flare would definitely have been visible in the camera viewfinder when I took the shot but I don't recall seeing it at the time. I guess I was concentrating hard on the UFO. People often report seeing objects in photos that were not noticed at the time of exposure. I think this demonstrates that when you're concentrating on your subject, you can even miss bright green glowing blobs!

PS: In November we recorded 557228 hits on the website, making it one of only 4 months ever with over half a million. In fact, it was the second highest ever total, only exceeded by the previous month.