Angel of refraction

By Phil Plait | April 1, 2007 7:44 pm

Sigh. More angel silliness.

At least this one was at the Vatican and not at a state fair.

Money quote:

I had not really thought about angels and stuff before. I don’t know if I believe in it all but it does look like an angel.

Several people have looked at it including a professional photographer and they can’t work out what it might be – maybe it is a guardian angel.

Maybe it was a Phoenix Light (hmmm, does anyone brew beer in Arizona? That would make a good label). After all, if the military doesn’t have anything to say about it, it must be a UFO angel.

Anyway, it looks more like a fairy to me. But that can’t possibly be right: we know what the church thinks about them.


Comments (38)

  1. (hmmm, does anyone brew beer in Arizona? That would make a good label).
    Actually, there are several breweries in AZ.

    Gentle Ben’s was (no ETOH for me anymore) one of my favorites.


  2. Troy

    I see the angel but when I first looked it appeared to be a goat skull (the eye socket at the nape of the ‘wing’.) Since it is light strolling in through the window it would be interesting if something similar would appear at the same time next year. At any rate it is vague enough that it is obvious the human mind is constructing it. (I’ve seen clouds that looked more like things)

  3. A light leak or strange reflection in the camera, maybe a developing error. If it was digital there could be something with the CCD chip. just speculating here.

  4. If you click through to the original article, there’s a wider version of the same shot where you can clearly see a giant window just above the apparition, streaming light down into the cathedral. As someone pointed out in the comments, it’s very easy to get reflections off the highly-polished marble in those buildings, not to mention that they often include little gilded bits all over the place.

    It’s ridiculous that people can’t just appreciate the buildings as the architectural and artistic masterpieces they are, rather than inventing these cockamaime stories about magical beings that only ever appear as amorphous bright spots on photos. (That usually nobody thought worth remarking on at the time. It’s always later that they spot the angel, alien, ghost, whatever.)

  5. It looks like a Moose’s head to me. Then again I just saw an episode of P&T’s Bulls Hit, so that may have influenced things.

  6. TAW

    GASP! it’s the fairy godmother from shrek 2!
    Maybe she’ll start singing…

  7. Arthur Maruyama

    Let me amplify what Joshua wrote by noting that in all probability people (including the photographer) DID see that light inside the Vatican, but they ignored it because they would have seen that the lit area was disjointed (as one of the commenter noted in the original article: in the close-up you can see that the “head” is actually on the pillar in front of the wall which is being lit). Only in the photograph would anyone think “angel” (or goat skull or moose head) because of the flattening effect that photography creates. People looking only at the photograph might think that the apparition was floating over the crowd because these viewers cannot tell that the light was on the wall behind the crowd (relative to the photographer).

    The original full picture (seen in the linked article) is still a very nice picture.

  8. Mark Hansen

    I had my own “mysterious object” turn up in a photo I took at the Auatralian War Memorial recently. I posted the photo at another forum I frequent in this thread. For anyone interested, the whole story is there but for those who wish to cut to the chase, I duplicated the conditions, got the same result, and then worked out what the answer was. Mildly reflective background that’s sensitive to flash photography.

  9. Mark Hansen

    And that would be the Australian War Memorial, not Auatralian! Must proof read before posting!!

  10. antaresrichard

    Tinkerbell, Catholic? Well I’ll be pixilated, I do believe!

  11. Actually this is clearly the Pixie Feiht from my webcomic. The wings are a bit small but otherwise it’s a perfect match for her silhouette. It would be just like her to confuse silly humans like this, too.

  12. Gwiz

    My guess is the ornament off the front of a Rolls-Royce.

  13. I agree with Gwiz. It’s the Rolls Royce symbol some how reflected on to the wall. Does the pope drive a Rolls? Maybe one of the nuns driving by at that precise moment.

  14. Carolus Hereticus

    Angel? Nah. It’s a ship’s figurehead, yeah, that’s it! A PIRATE ship figurehead! It’s a sign all right! Ghostly pirates are trying to break back into this reality and change the course of global warming!!!

    All praise the FSM …

  15. sirjonsnow

    No, it’s a Grey! Just get rid of that left-most bulge and you can see it.

  16. jrkeller

    A couple of weeks ago, we had a Virgin Mary sighting in Houston – on a pizza pan,

  17. webrunner

    Phoenix Light…


  18. Gary Ansorge

    Since they’re trying to beatify Pope John Paul II, I expect there will be some folks claiming this is a sign from beyond,,,or some such. Look for it in your local paper.

    GAry 7

  19. ProfAsdf

    No, no, no.

    Glowing in the middle, you can plainly see the floating head of a very grim looking gorilla with a protruding brow and bearded muzzle (well, patches of hair hanging down anyway), wearing an eye patch. It has a fish fin growing out of the side of its head on the left. There is also clearly a handgun being held against its cheek on the right. Pointing up, handle towards us.

    Also visible, despite being darker and less distinct, is a man’s face behind the gorilla head. You can see one of his eyes (a human eye, slightly larger in apparent size than the gorilla’s eyepatch) above and a bit to the left of the gorilla’s ‘fro. Above that his forehead is clear – the picture cuts off the top of his head. A mass of wild bushy hair to the left of the eye. You can also see his ear between columns-of-light numbers 2 and 3 counting from the right.


  20. Gary Ansorge

    Prof asdf: Dang! Sounds like you caught me but you missed my wild, bushy beard,,,

    GAry 7

  21. JackC

    Well, it is not an angel of Refraction, but an Angel of Reflection. That is pretty darn easy to see really.

    If “Experts” examined this thing and couldn’t determine the cause, I would have to redefine my use of the term “Expert”.


  22. Eric Layne

    What? People still actually believe in angels?

  23. Donnie B.

    Oh, wicked, bad, naughty Zoot! She has been setting alight to our beacon, which, I have just remembered, is angel-shaped.

  24. Rand

    I have no idea how anyone can get an angel out of that picture.

  25. Fizzle

    I may believe in angels(Don’t debate me about that) but that is insane. I’ve taken pictures in the fog where you get the same sort of reflection. I think the same people that think that’s an angle would think a skeleton with wings is an angle(Think Simpsons)

  26. Sue Mitchell

    Hm, the Angel of Refraction equals the Angel of Incidence…

    Incidentally, didn’t anyone notice it was the first of April…? ūüėČ

  27. Jarno

    I can’t, for the life of me, see any angel figure there. Maybe it’s because it’s such an obvious Giraffe’s head.

    All hail the mighty the mighty Giraffe!

  28. Donnie B.

    I win? *gasps* Thank you! I will treasure this moment forever! You like me, you really like me!

  29. Scott

    This is why I always use my angel filter when taking pictures in cathedrals. You don’t want silly angels blocking your images of the breathtaking architecture!

  30. Michelle

    It looks like a simple light hitting against something to me. I had pretty weird shapes resulting from light coming through a window myself.

  31. DenverAstro

    Wait a sec, that looks an awful lot like a little stripper I knew once. I gave her a lot of money and never got anything for it. That kinda sounds like tithing to the church, dont it? Whoa, maybe I’m on to something here…

  32. snarkophilus

    “Professional photographers have studied Mr Key’s photo and are at a loss to explain what may have caused the image.”

    Then they are not very good photographers.

    My new summer project: I will take hundreds of pictures of stuff in very shiny places until I get an apparition that looks exactly like David Duchovny. (Well, in the sense that if I say, “hey, this is David Duchovny,” you would be inclined to maybe agree.) Then, I will start a Duchovny cult, and maybe if it got big enough we could convince them to put X-Files back on the air. I think there was an angel in one episode of that.

    Then, once that is accomplished, I will take hundreds more pictures until I get one that looks just like Phil Plait. Then the cult-based fun will really begin!

  33. Just Al

    Having worked with too many professional photographers, I always enjoy it when the term is used as if it denotes some kind of degree or level of education. Why, of course you’re not allowed to sell your services as a photographer until you pass the image evaluation tests! ūüėČ

    It’s a bit like believing an auto mechanic can serve as an accident investigator.

    Those that actually do have the skills to evaluate images rarely, if ever, make a living doing it. There’s too little call for it, and in cases like this, no one will actually pay for the answer unless they’re quite sure it will agree with their views.

    But the article just seemed to me to be the typical hack technique of finding the people who would happily provide the weirdest quotes. It’s what passes for journalism these days (and there’s no degree or level of education required for that either). Show most people that image, with no suggestive mention of angels or anything else, and they’d simply call it a reflection – it’s not like the flare directly above it wasn’t a strong indication of such.

  34. Loi'hi

    Why, of course it’s a figure skater spinning gullibrouette!

  35. stu

    they exist but you will never convince some folk. you cant PROVE that which is not ment to be proven yet.

  36. libby

    duh this has to be a angle i cant believe that they got pic of it me and my mum thought it was really cool.i wonder why the camra colud only see it that is kindda dumb byt i still belive


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