What Are Orbs in Photos? Spirits? Dust?

Researchers show some orbs are anomalous, cannot be explained by reflected light
Many people capture illuminated, circular spots in their photographs. These spots are commonly known as orbs. Some people explain orbs as light reflected off surrounding surfaces; some explain them as light reflected off dust particles; and some explain them as spirits or other entities normally invisible to the human eye.

Little research has been done on this phenomenon, but Dr. Gary E. Schwartz and Adjunct Research Professor of Optical Sciences Katherine Creath at the University of Arizona did publish a study on orbs in 2005.

They said most orbs can be explained by the reflection of the camera’s flash off of objects on the scene, or off of dust. However, Schwartz and Creath acknowledged that some orbs seem to defy conventional optical explanation.

An orb captured in a BBC documentary, for example, moved slowly before disappearing. Schwartz and Creath write: “It is not possible to explain orbic objects such as these that move in dynamic and unpredictable paths as being caused by stray reflections. It is also not possible to explain many of them as being caused by dust particles in the air.”
An orb captured in a BBC documentary that was not caused by reflected light, according to University of Arizona researchers. The researchers could not provide a scientific explanation for the orb. (Screenshot/

This documentary was filmed using a high-end infrared camera mounted on a tripod, eliminating some of the factors the researchers say often cause orbs in photos taken with inexpensive cameras.

Schwartz and Creath continue: “It is neither logical nor responsible at this point to conclude that every [orb] … observed worldwide can be explained by a conventional optical science mechanism such as stray reflection.”

In their view, however, most orbs can be explained by conventional optical science and new explanations for the anomalous orbs may develop.

Orbs are seen in the Regent Theater in Melbourne, Australia, on April 14, 2012, following a performance by Shen Yun Performing Arts. Shen Yun revives 5,000 years of Chinese culture through story-based dance. This culture has a strong connection to spirituality and is believed to be divinely inspired, according to the New York-based company’s website. 

An orb hovers near the horn of the ox on the left. It is unusual in that the orb appears to be in front of the horn, yet there is a distinct shadow cast on the orb by the horn.

Orbs are seen in New Zealand near the settlement of the Ngati Mamoe tribe, a tribe that no longer exists. 

Orbs said by the photographer to be caused by rain.
Orbs said by the photographer to be caused by dust that was intentionally kicked up



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