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Kirlian photography

Kirlian photography is high-voltage contact print photography.

The process is named after Semyon Kirlian[?], who discovered the effect in 1939 following the accidental discovery that if an object on a photographic plate is subjected to a high-voltage electric field, an image is created on the plate. The images resemble a rough outline of the object like a colourful halo.

Kirlian proposed and promoted the idea that the resulting images of living objects were a physical proof of the life force or aura which allegedly surrounds all living beings. One of the reasons behind this claim is because of a reported number of experiments including some by the Kirlians that cutting part of a leaf off results in leaf that when photographed remained the whole leaf on the Kirlian image.

Researchers at Drexel University, however, have claimed that they were unable to reproduce the effect when the glass used to capture the original leaf was replaced with new glass before the freshly cut leaf was photographed, leading them to conclude that the "cut leaf" phenomenon was caused by microscopic etching in the surface of the glass which occurred during preparing the images of the uncut leaf. They also reported on a number of demonstrable causes such as surface moisture and pressure which can account for much of the variations in color, shape, and size of the resulting image.

The accepted explanation amongst scientists is that the images produced are those typically caused by a high voltage corona effect, similar to those seen from other high voltage sources such as van de graff generators. In a darkened room, this is visible as faint glow; but because of the high voltages, the film is affected in a slightly different way than usual. Color photographic film is calibrated to faithfully produce colors when exposed to normal light. The corona discharge has a somewhat different effect on the different layers of dye used to accomplish this result, resulting in various colors depending on the local intensity of the discharge.

In addition to living and dead material, inanimate objects such as coins will also produce images on the film in a Kirlian photograph setup.

Other skeptics about the paranormal have also long disputed the claims about auras and Kirlian photography. James Randi, for example, has for many years (still in 2003, anyway), offered one million US dollars to any person capable of repeatedly detecting auras, and no person has yet stepped forward to claim the prize--even though the test involves a simple task that any seer of auras should easily complete.

The most famous use of Kirlian photography is a picture resembling a hand print in the title sequence of the science fiction TV series the X-Files.

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