Ghostly Gear: Technology Tools for Paranormal Investigations

Take a peek inside the modern ghost hunter's technology toolbox.

How do you catch a ghost? Not with an iPhone—at least not yet. Paranormal investigators employ an unusual array of equipment: Favorite gadgets range from the simple—thermometers and carpenter's levels—to the complex and expensive—infrared thermal cameras and ultrasonic listening devices.

Thermometers and Thermal Scanners

Thermometers have been used for decades in paranormal investigations, as cold spots are said to be clues to the locations of supernatural beings, says Loyd Auerbach, founder and director of the Office of Paranormal Investigations.

image of a thermometer

Simple temperature gauges like the ones you might hang outside your back door can be set up in separate areas of a home or other locations to monitor temperature and detect sudden changes. But experienced ghost hunters employ digital thermometers with built-in alarms and memory to record minimum and maximum temperatures. The alarms can alert investigators to drastic temperatures changes, so that they don't need to remain in a single spot to monitor shifts. These gadgets, which sell for about $40, also show the historical range of normal temperatures.

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Some ghost hunters also swear by thermal scanners—thermometers that use infrared technology to measure temperatures at a distance. Most of these gizmos look like bulky, plastic guns that you point at an area (perhaps across a room) to gauge temperature. But you need a surface against which the infrared laser can bounce. So if you're looking for a reading in the middle of a room, you must purchase an even more expensive scanner that works with a moveable probe and receiver. Typical point-and-shoot thermal scanners run from $100 to $200.

EMF Meters

image of an EMF meter
TriField EMF Meter

Electromagnetic Field (EMF) meters measure levels of electromagnetic radiation—which ghost hunters believe apparitions emit. This radiation originates from a wide variety of sources, including the earth, people, electronics and power lines. Different EMF meters gauge radiation levels at different frequencies, so some investigators choose to carry multiple meters.

The meters often look like large, handheld computing devices with small displays and various knobs to adjust settings as you pace around an area.

One commonly used EMF meter, the Trifield Natural EM Meter, goes for $170, but some high-end industrial EMF meters will run you several thousand dollars.

Cameras and Video Recorders

image of a Canon EOS Digital SLR Camera
Canon EOS Digital SLR Camera

Vince Wilson, author of Ghost Science: The Essential Guide to the Scientific Study of Ghosts and Hauntings, and Ghost Tech: The Essential Guide to Paranormal Investigation Equipment, calls his digital SLR camera the most valuable tool in his ghost hunter's arsenal—though other ghost hunters say the value of photographic or digital images in this pursuit is debatable. Some paranormal investigators believe that ghosts cannot be photographed at all and that the true value of photographic and video recording equipment is in capturing witness testimony and documenting locations. Wilson believes a combination of audio and video will eventually convince the public of the existence of ghosts.

Auerbach warns against the use of traditional digital cameras like the ones found in cell phones and other devices, because their lenses and flashes are often extremely close together. A flash that's too close to the lens will leave noticeable markings that could be mistaken for "orbs" or other signs of the paranormal, he says.

Digital video recorders (DVRs) can also be extremely valuable to ghost hunters—not and just for capturing images of specters. Such devices can be set up in rooms and left there to see if objects move without apparent cause.

image of a Four-Channel Samsung DVR
Four-Channel Samsung DVR

Wilson uses a 4-channel, 160GB Samsung DVR, or a comparable device, because it can be set to note whenever it detects movement in pixels—a feature that eliminates the need for investigators to view hours of blank tapes. The $200 Samsung machine also connects to as many as four different cameras or video sources simultaneously, to capture various angles of the same space.

Paranormal investigators with deep pockets may also employ infrared thermal vision cameras (made by vendors such as Flir Systems) in their research, though these devices can cost upwards of $10,000. Infrared thermal vision cameras capture video pictures in which each pixel is, in effect, a tiny thermometer.

Motion and Sound Detectors

Motion sensors can alert paranormal investigators to movement in unoccupied rooms. Since ghosts are believed to be ethereal, spirits wouldn't likely set off a motion detector alarm, Auerbach says, but objects they might influence or move potentially could. Convenience stores and small shops often employ motion detectors with chimes to notify staffers of when a customer has entered: Such gadgets retail for as little as $27, though low-end models usually attach to a wall and can only detect movement directly in front of their sensors, in a range of less than 180 degrees. The next step up, ceiling censors, deliver a full 360-degree range.

image of a Ceiling Mounted 360 Degree Motion Detector
360 Degree Motion Detector

In electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) cases, investigators often try devices that can detect sound in vacant areas or at extremely high or low frequencies. (EVP is when human-sounding voices from an unidentified source are captured on tape, digital recording, radio broadcast or other electronic audio transmission, and are heard during playback.) Wilson uses a digital recorder and Audacity, a free, cross platform audio editing program, for these jobs.

EVP investigators also sometimes use ultrasonic listening devices to detect sounds that cannot be heard by the human ear, though the price tags of these devices likely deters all but the highest level of ghost hunters.

Ghostly Odds and Ends

Since paranormal investigations consist largely of monitoring various environmental factors for noticeable and unexplained shifts or trends, a plethora of tools can be used to measure factors like atmospheric pressure (barometers), humidity (psychrometers/hygrometers), static electricity (static meters) and the negative ion content in the air (negative ion meters).

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Auerbach recalls one specific case in which a family claimed they became ill whenever they entered their newly rented home, though they were fine outside the home. The people even claimed to have seen random fireballs appear in their living room. Auerbach found a few possible answers using some of the above-mentioned tools, none of which were the least bit supernatural. The family lived below some power lines that were creating a sound too low to hear, but one that could be a potential source of headaches and illness. The home neighbored a garbage dump, and methane gas—which has a putrid smell—could have been constantly drifting in, further prompting illness. The fireballs could have been a result of static electricity produced by the power lines combined with the flammable gas, he says. And finally, using a simple carpenter's level, Auerbach and his team determined that many of the houses door and window frames were not built at 90-degree-angles, creating slightly crooked floors in some cases, which could have caused prolonged the dizziness and an ill feeling.

In that case, Auerbach didn't find any ghosts or other paranormal happenings. His tools did help him collect enough evidence about the house for the owners to get out of their lease, as the residence was in violation of a number of local zoning regulations.

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