ASSAP: Paranormal Research
ASSAP: Paranormal Education
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ASSAP blogWelcome to the ASSAP paranormal blog! Though this blog is aimed at anyone interested in the paranormal, it will be of particular interest to the paranormal research community. Updated frequently, but not regularly (don't expect something new every day!), it covers any paranormal topic, as well as highlighting recent changes to the ASSAP website. You may not notice it but this site changes on an almost daily basis.

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30 June 2008: Yet more weird photos

UFOFlying rod

 

 

 

 

 

 


I took these two odd photos the other day. The one on the left shows an out of focus flying rod. It is, of course, an insect. You can just make out the wings above and below the main dark body section (elongated by the exposure). With an exposure time of 1/200s the wings were frozen but it still bears a remarkable similarity to hover fly flying rod below. I have seen photos of dark flying rods against the sky, as opposed to the bright ones against dark backgrounds, but this is the first one I've got myself. They are harder than the bright ones because of the difficulty focusing.

The photo on the right is a UFO. OK, I expect you've guessed already that I know precisely what it really is. In fact, it's a House Martin, catching the sun to give a 'metallic sheen'. Now you know it's a bird, it's easy to see what it is.

You may ask, how do I keep getting all these 'anomalous' photos all the time? The truth is, I'm always on the look out for likely situation where I think it might be possible to get a UFO, flying rod, orb, simulacrum, etc. If you go actively seeking these things, you will find them. The vast majority of strange photos are taken by people who are not looking for anything weird and they don't remember the vital clues that might say what it is. By constantly finding new ways in which photographic anomalies can form, it is becoming possible to say what most of the mystery ones are.

26 June 2008: Daylight orbs

Daylight orbIf there is ever a rash of daylight orbs reported, I will be ready with some likely causes! As it happens, almost everyone seems to get far more excited about night-time orbs, possibly because they are much more common and look spookier.

The reason for the preponderance of night-time orbs is, of course, that they are generally caused by camera flash. However, the existence of rare daylight orbs shows that a flash is not essential. Most 'orbs' shot in daylight are actually lens flare but this effect is usually easy to recognise.

The photo here (right), taken a couple of days ago, shows a 'genuine' daylight orb. It is genuine in the sense that it is a small out of focus particle, in this case a floating seed, caught in the orb zone. It shows up reasonably well because of the dark vegetation that forms the background. The seed was, itself, illuminated by direct sunlight. Other likely sources of daylight orbs are insects and raindrops.

25 June 2008: Do coincidences cause paranormal reports?

Paranormal researchers sometimes groan when coincidences are mentioned. They are seen as an 'easy' way of 'explaining away' spontaneous paranormal reports. However, it is entirely possible that rare coincidences might indeed be behind many apparently paranormal reports.

Coincidences are driven by random chance. If the odds of something happening are long, it doesn't mean it will never happen. Indeed, it means that, given enough time, it is almost bound to happen eventually! And the very fact that something seems incredibly unlikely might also be what attracts our attention to it in the first place. Who, after all, reports the mundane, the everyday?

Coincidences share two important factors with many xenonormal reports, namely: they are rare and they are generally one-off events (one person experiences something weird, once, in one location). But what about patterns discerned between many different spontaneous paranormal reports, you may ask? Many UFOs, for instance, are reported to have a saucer-like appearance. A lot of paranormal reports are the result of the misperception of an unfamiliar phenomenon. Their interpretation, by the witness, may be coloured by their culturally received ideas of what such phenomena 'should' look like. For instance, when I saw the 'Thomas balloon' (see blog entry below: 23 June), there were times when it looked saucer-like and others when it resembled a flying pig, depending on its angle in the sky. Someone else, not aware that it was a balloon, might only have remembered the saucer-like shape and forgotten, albeit unintentionally, the other shapes because 'that's what UFOs look like'. It would thus be reported as a classic flying saucer.

To find out more about the 'coincidence theory of paranormal reports', including examples, see the new coincidence page.

Further reading (new page): Coincidences: the roots of the paranormal?

23 June 2008: Thomas the UFO again!

UFO (balloon toy)OK, what IS going on? Last July I snapped a 'Thomas the Tank Engine' toy balloon floating over London. From certain angles, and particularly from a distance, it could easily have been taken for a UFO. Indeed, it was only identified as a balloon with the help of binoculars. Now, last Saturday, I snapped another one! So is there a Thomas Balloon Release Society out there somewhere?

The photo, right, is a telephoto shot which includes enough detail to show that it is not your everyday flying saucer. It is still not obvious that it is Thomas, however. Indeed, it has a passing resemblance to a flying pig! With the naked eye, the balloon looked much more saucer-like as it rose slowly into the sky.

There must be hundreds of different shaped toy balloon designs out there, so why is Thomas the one that gets released, accidentally or otherwise, to confuse and disappoint UFO watchers everywhere? I think we should be told the truth! If the TBRS wants to get in touch, I'll be waiting for your explanation!

20 June 2008 (Summer Solstice): Touched by a ghost

Red AdmiralHave you ever felt a ghostly touch on your hand when there was no one around? Shocking, isn't it! It's happened to me several times and there are reports of similar experiences from people on ghost vigils. Many such touches take place in the dark when it is impossible to see what may have caused it. The obvious cause, to many people in such circumstances, is a ghost!

The most recent time I felt such a touch, I had the presence of mind to look at what might be causing it. It was a moth! The experience made me remember that this had happened several times before. While other insects mercifully usually keep their distance, I've noticed a tendency by moths, and indeed butterflies (pic right), to land on people with no more concern than they might alight on a flower.

Could moths explain some ghostly touching experiences on vigils, particularly those in the dark? They are certainly found commonly in buildings, they're active at night and it seems not averse to landing on people. Many people react to such touches by sharply withdrawing their hand. This would, of course, cause the moth to fly away unnoticed, leaving behind only a mystery and an itch.

Insects seem to play a much larger part on paranormal reports than many of us give them credit for. They appear in orbs, flying rods, masquerading as fairies and now providing ghostly nocturnal touches. Is there no end to their talent for xenonormal play? There's even a species known as the Ghost Moth!

19 June 2008: Photo or story?

Anomalous photos always have a story behind them. Sometimes it may be all that makes the photo seem anomalous. An unremarkable photo of a man standing in a street only becomes 'paranormal' when the photographer swears there was no one there at the time. The problem, then, is that, provided the photo appears normal when examined, everything depends on the story.

Cameras can be faulty and they can be 'fooled' by unusual conditions (like lens flare or water on the optics). However, in general, they simply collect light and store it, without noticeable deterioration, as an image. If there was a man there to be seen then he will appear in the photo. Humans, by contrast, do not always pay attention, can be fooled by misperception and do not have perfect memories. It is always much more likely that the camera is correct rather than the accompanying story.

If you take this argument a step further, it gets scary! Most paranormal cases are not even recorded with a camera, or other instrument. In these instances there is only the 'story', or witness statement, to rely on. It is inevitable that the witness testimony of all paranormal events is going to contain a degree of inaccuracy. However, the fact that some witnesses are prepared to contradict the evidence of their own photography means sometimes that sometimes these errors may be quite serious.

16 June 2008: Mysteriously closing doors

Water sprite?Doors that apparently open or close 'on their own', are a fairly common feature of hauntings. There is an article on this site about mysteriously opening doors, but what about those that close by themselves?

An important point to remember before considering mysteriously closing doors is that it is very rarely observed to close. Far more commonly, doors are found closed or heard to close, having been previously observed open. This is very important because it leaves open the possibility of many non-paranormal causes.

The other day I was in a public building when I heard a door close behind me. It struck me as odd because I thought the door had closed already. It was one of those doors with a 'damping' mechanism that makes it close slowly. I had seen the door close but many seconds later (maybe 30s or more), I heard the latch click behind me. It appears that the damping mechanism had closed the door but it required a little while longer for enough pressure to build up to finally close the latch.

I observed the same thing happen a couple of times (any more and they'd have sent for security!) and it was consistent. Anyone inside the room might have thought the door was fully closed, only to hear the latch mechanism mysteriously close some time later on its own! In a haunted house, this might have been mistakenly attributed to a ghostly entity! It shows the importance of testing any doors that mysteriously open or close many times, in case they have a quirk like this one did.

Flying rods over riverSo what has the photo above to do with all this? Nothing, really! I took it the other day as an example of how 'mists' can be seen in photos on a bright sunny day. If you haven't worked it out, it's a patch of sunlight hitting a clear, shallow river. The golden area is the river bed, while the 'mist' is the sun reflecting directly off the top of the water! There are a couple of flying rods at the top of the photo caused by insects fortuitously present (close up, right - note reflection below left rod in water). Someone, somewhere is bound to take a similar photo sometime and think it is a water sprite!

11 June 2008: Blue-winged fairies

Demoiselle Damselfly

If you live in the UK and have been watching the BBC's popular Springwatch TV programme, you may already know what this spectacular insect is. It was shown on last night's programme, several having turned up at the programme's base in Norfolk. As it happened, a number turned up where I was yesterday as well (it may have been a countrywide phenomenon), which is how I photographed this beautiful Banded Demoiselle Damselfly.

This spectacular damselfly resembles a tiny, blue winged fairy as it flits around rivers, catching the eye easily. The idea of winged fairies seems to be mainly confined to recent representational art. It makes one wonder how anyone ever took the 'Cottingly Fairies' seriously, even for a minute!

It is possible to imagine how certain large insects, like this one, may have inspired awe with their extraordinary appearance centuries ago. Damselflies are sometimes known as 'devil's darning needles' because they are supposed to sew your eyes shut if you sleep near a stream! To me, these bizarre insects look to have been constructed from brightly coloured modern plastic, looking like something from science fiction. It is even possible that such insects may have inspired the modern popular image of tiny flying fairies. The origin of the larger, more sinister, unwinged traditional fairies of folklore, however, is a more obscure matter.

9 June 2008: The return of the flying rods!

Flying rodFor those of you wondering whatever happened to flying rods, they're back! In this part of the world (UK), the easiest time of the year to get rod photos is probably winter and spring. That's because some insects swarm, making them easier to photograph. In summer, insects tend to fly alone . Season doesn't make much difference to 'accidental' rod photos because, by definition, the photographer wasn't trying to get insect photos. If one happens to get on a frame, it hardly matters whether it was part of swarm.

Anyway, the other day I was photographing a hoverfly (lower photo). These are the easiest of the smaller insects to photograph on the wing for one obvious reason! I can't say the results were great but I'll keep trying. What was interesting, however, was that I that I unexpectedly got a rod! I was shooting sequences at several frames per second. This is advisable with wildlife as your subject has a nasty habit of departing the scene quickly, without warning. Needless to say, that's what happened here. In one shot you could see the hoverfly fine, while in the next, it was flying off rapidly. Luckily, I caught it at the edge of the frame as a beautiful flying rod (upper photo).

HoverflyThis flying rod is quite different to any I've caught before. That's because it is a different species to my previous insect subjects. It appears that flying rods may all be slightly different, depending on the insect species that is forming them. Indeed, it might be possible to produce a 'field guide' of rods, which would identify which insect had produced them. It would be a lot of work and, I suspect, have few readers, sadly. Therefore, I'm certainly not going to volunteer. But if anyone wants to pursue this project, I'd be glad to offer advice.

In the photo of the hoverfly, it is interesting to see how much the wings move. The exposure time was 1/200s, so those wings are really moving! The photo of the rod has an exposure time of 1/60s, well within the range of video cameras which are usually associated with rods.

6 June 2008: Fake paranormal photos

I've mentioned here before that some researchers tend to over-estimate the number of fake paranormal photos that there are floating around. In my experience, there are very few indeed. Most paranormal photos have simply puzzled the people who took them and they want some answers.

In a weird twist to this idea, some people use the existence of fake paranormal photos to validate 'genuine' ones. The argument goes like this. A photo is examined by an expert and he says he can find no evidence of digital manipulation. Therefore, the argument goes, the photo must be genuine!

I'm sure regular readers will see the folly of this approach. It is certainly possible to detect digital manipulation but that doesn't mean the photo is necessarily 'genuine'. In the days before digital cameras, it was easy to fake a UFO picture by throwing a hub cap in the air and photographing it. Or you could hang a flying saucer model from a nylon thread, which wouldn't show on a photo. It was similarly possible to create a 'ghost' easily using a long exposure.

The point is, just because digital has arrived, it doesn't mean all the old 'manual' techniques of faking no longer work. Indeed, with modern, automatic digital cameras, faking with models and long exposures is a lot easier. That's because you can check your efforts on the screen on the back of the camera straight away. It allows you to hone your faking techniques very quickly, without waiting to develop a film. And EXIF data keeps all the helpful exposure data!

If you are intent on faking a photo, manual methods look more convincing. That's because they 'look right' - no strange object boundaries or multiple points of focus to attract suspicion. Not that I would ever condone faking photos!

When you get a photo analysed, looking for digital manipulation should just be one stage in the process. In fact, it's probably only worth bothering with if the photo looks 'too good to be true'. The vast majority of apparently paranormal photos were honestly taken and deserve proper examination, not just checking for manipulation.

3 June 2008: Strange vertical streaks in anomalous photo

Anomalous photo with vertical streaks

Here is another odd photo I took recently, in mountains. The oddity is the presence of white vertical streaks, not seen at the time of exposure. This is just one of a series of photos taken at the time that almost all showed the same anomalous streak, though in different positions within the frame. Another camera used at the same time also showed the same streaks. So what are they?*

Here are the clues: (a) all the streaks are about the same size, irrespective of where they are in the photo, (b) the length of the streaks in each photo is roughly proportional to the exposure time ie. the longer the exposure, the longer the streak, (c) the streaks appear all over the photos, irrespective of what object they are in front of, (d) it was raining at the time and finally (e) as far as I can remember (and deduce from clues in the pictures, such as bits of overhanging roof) all the photos were taken from shelter (ie. a roof above to protect the camera from water), though not through a window (which could have produced reflections).

Putting these clues together, the best conclusion is that the streaks are large water droplets falling from the overhanging roof above the photographer, just in front of the camera. When droplets fall from a structure, like a gutter or tree, they are generally larger than raindrops, which would explain why they are visible when the rain isn't. The streak's length would naturally vary according to how far they fell during the exposure since they were falling from the same height (as well as same distance from the camera), assuming they were all roughly the same size (explaining point [b] above).

This photo demonstrates how anomalous photos often occur when several different factors happen fortuitously to come together at the same time. Without knowing all those factors it can be impossible to deduce what really happened to cause a weird photo. Unfortunately, many people only notice anomalies in photos long after they've forgotten the circumstances of the exposure. Some people will claim that something was, or was not, present at the time when, in reality, it is highly unlikely they can accurately remember either way. In the end, what the photo actually shows is a more reliable record of events than human memory.

PS: Some flying rods (those without appendages) might be explained in this way!
* The diagonal streak in the bottom right of the photo is a real object, not an anomaly!

2 June 2008: Ghostly pigeon

Solar haloRecently, I was eating at an outside table of a restaurant on the pavement. It was getting dark but still light enough to see everything around perfectly. Suddenly, something caught my attention under the table. It was a black and white pigeon walking between my feet! I was surprised! Though I'd seen pigeons and sparrows around the tables, picking up dropped crumbs, I hadn't seen a bird bold enough to walk between someone's feet! So, I looked under the table to see where the bird had gone but there was nothing there!

Puzzled, I decided to investigate my sighting. The first thing that struck me was that, in the gathering gloom, there were no birds about though there had been earlier. Presumably, they had decided it was time to roost. This didn't rule out a real bird, of course. However, I then noticed that my feet were only a couple of centimetres apart - far too small a gap to allow a bird as big as a pigeon to get through. It was, by now, obvious that I had not seen a pigeon at all.

So, I watched my feet for a while and then saw 'it' again. OK, I didn't see a pigeon but I did see a pattern of light moving swiftly. It gave the impression of an object passing between my feet. It was caused by passing car headlights! Thus it was a case of misperception. Further, it was also a 'corner of the eye' phenomenon (my original observation was in my peripheral vision), which explained why it was black and white and not identified correctly.

But why a pigeon? Expectation explains that - having seen pigeons moving around between the tables earlier, my mind obviously just decided it was one of them. What surprised me was how vividly I 'saw' the ghostly pigeon. It seemed utterly real at the time. It reminded me of the many times I'd heard ghost witnesses say that what they'd seen was completely solid and real. I was shocked at how vivid a misperception could be!

In this week's New Scientist (31 May 2008), there is an article concerning the latest theories of how the human brain works. A popular current theory is that the brain forms an 'image' of the world initially purely from experience of what it expects to be real. This is then 'corrected' with information from our senses! When our senses do not provide accurate information, as in the case of peripheral vision, the impression we have of the world may remain a guess based on expectation. And that could well be wrong! That certainly seems to have happened here.

PS: The photo? See May's blog ...

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© Maurice Townsend 2008