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Kirilian Photography

corona object film discharge

DAVID MALIN
Anglo-Australian Observatory, RMIT University

A Kirilian photograph is a photographic recording of the faint corona discharge induced by the application of a high voltage but low current electrical field to an object which is in direct contact with a photographic material. If recorded on color film, the plasma of the corona may exhibit a remarkable range of hues, mostly from atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen ionized by the applied electric potential, plus some direct exposure of the underlying emulsion by electrons.

The normal process involves placing an insulated metal plate beneath a sheet of photographic film (or instant film such as Polaroid) and completing the circuit through a specimen, which is put in contact with the film, usually in a light-tight bag or a darkroom. However, a conventional camera can also be used to record the corona discharge if the electrode in contact with the specimen is a transparent plate.

With inanimate objects such as a rock, the characteristics of the corona that are produced will be predictable and reproducible, provided the object is dry and the humidity constant. With some biological specimens the corona pattern may vary from time to time, probably due to local humidity changes in the air in the region between the living organism or object and the photographic layer. For example, if the object is a human finger, the degree of perspiration, its cleanliness, or pressure on the plate may affect the appearance and color of the corona.

Similar discharge coronas are observed in nature, as “St. Elmo’s fire,” reported by sailing ships at the edge of an electrical storm at sea. A smaller electrical discharge is seen when removing silky or polyester clothing in the dark under dry conditions. These unusual phenomena, related to Lichtenberg figures (frozen lightning) are well eXplained by conventional physics. Despite this they have become part of “New Age” philosophies, with the high-voltage aura proposed as revealing something of the “natural energy” of living specimens or human subjects. There is no evidence to support this.

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