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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Kirlian photography A process discovered by the Russian Semyon Kirlian in 1937, in which an object is placed directly on a piece of photographic film or paper, one side of a high-voltage, high-frequency generator is connected to the object, and the other side is grounded to a metal plate beneath the photographic material. Often, glass plates separate the two electric terminals, though the high-frequency voltage can penetrate such a barrier.
      The ensuing corona discharge, a halo effect resulting from the electric charge being dissipated, and closely related to the Saint Elmo's fire phenomenon, is registered on the material and can be seen when the developing process is carried out. The corona is thought to indicate a sort of “life energy,” and thus this technique's use in showing variations in that energy. It is also believed to register the aura.
      Once highly regarded by the paranormalists, Kirlian photography has now been shown to only indicate variances in pressure, humidity, grounding, and conductivity. Corona discharges are well understood and explained in elementary physics.
      The most famous effect of Kirlian photography occurred when a plant leaf was “photographed,” then a section was torn away and the leaf was rephotographed. A faint image of the torn-out section was still seen in the second photo. Since the same glass plates had been used, it is believed that moisture from the missing portion was providing the ghostly image. Since the glass plates used as dielectric material would tend to break down along the edges of the object, allowing easier passage of the discharge, that may also account for the effect. The observed “phantom leaf” effect was not found again in better-controlled experiments, but has continued to serve as a point of argument for the believers.

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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.

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