Preliminary Analysis of the Albany TV Object




On October 21, 2002 I received a phone call from an employee of Fox 23 TV in Albany, NY who told me that a cameraman, while filming background scenery for the local weather report, had filmed something else as well: an "object" that had traveled so rapidly through the field of view of the camera that he had not noticed it until he was back at the TV station and running video slowly while editing it for the final production. The object only appeared on 10 fields of the video so the total time of appearance was about 1/6 of a second. (Each field is 1/60 sec and the fields are generated consecutively to make 60 fields per second. These are combined in successive pairs to make 30 complete "frames" per second.) As he examined this video field by field he noticed that the object appeared to go behind a wisp of cloud at about 4,000 ft. Immediately he thought that the object must have been big and traveling at a huge rate of speed. He showed the video to several people at the station and they all had the definite impression that the object went behind the cloud. They agreed that the object must have been quite long to have made an image with the length shown in the video. They called the local airport to find out if the object had been detected on radar. The answer was no, so they decided they had better report to "higher authorities" because of the possibility that some extremely fast object(s) could be flying around undetected. They contacted the local sheriff and he, in turn, contacted the FBI. The authorities, including some military official(s) questioned the cameraman and the FBI took a copy (or the original?) of the videotape. The FBI also administered a polygraph test to the cameraman. The employee asked if I would be willing to analyze the video. I said yes if they would send me a good copy. I finally received a VHS copy on Nov. 6. In the meantime, there were press stories on this event:

Strange Sighting over Albany Airport, New York Flying Object over Albany International October 21, 2002 (date of story) A strange sight in the skies over the Capital Region - no one knows yet what is was - but it was enough to have the FBI scrambling to take a look. One of our videographers was shooting a plane taking off from the albany international airport - at the same time the strange object streaked through the sky - it was moving so fast, he didn't even see it, until he played his tape in slow motion. We're told the object did *not show up on radar. Authorities will continue to analyze the video to figure out what the flying object is. We'll keep you posted Source: The Times Union - Albany, NY 10/22/2002 By CATHY WOODRUFF, Staff writer First published: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 Was it a terrorist missile, an off-course alien space craft or just a zippy mosquito with a hearty autumn constitution? Local authorities hope the FBI will know for sure. The image caught on videotape by a Fox 23 cameraman shooting background for weather stories on Sunday [Oct 20] resembles -- when it's slowed, enlarged and paused -- a fine rod with a small set of wings near each end. The cameraman didn't notice it at the time, said Fox assignment editor Jeb Rowledge, but the tiny dark spot streaking across the frame, apparently above the clouds, caught his eye while editing the video of a plane taking off at Albany International Airport. The station showed the video to airport and Albany County Sheriff's officials Sunday night, and on Monday, local authorities asked the FBI to take a look, too. "There's something on that videotape that is interesting, to say the least, but we don't have any idea what it is," said airport spokesman Doug Myers. "Right now, we don't know what it is or if it was there," said Undersheriff John Mahan. "It looks like a rocket," but it did not show up on airport radar, and even the cameraman didn't see it until he looked at the tape. Albany FBI spokeswoman Lisa Massaroni said the tape will likely be sent to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., for analysis. "Nothing has been determined about what, if anything, is on that video," she said. The image resembles phenomena called "rods," which some buffs suggest could be paranormal or extraterrestrial. Skeptics, however, say they are simply the result of an insect flying past a video camera at a certain speed and distance. They contend the figure is formed because bug wings beat at a different frequency from the frame capture rate of a video camera, creating a strange image resembling a rod, the blurred body of the insect moving forward, and small bulges along each side.

The mention of "rods" in the above article is a result of the shape of the image, namely, an elongated, faintly dark line against the blue sky. The image does not have a lot of contrast with the sky, but nevertheless is easily seen, even when the video is run at normal speed, when one knows when and where to look. Besides the dark line there are "appendages" which appear twice in each frame. The appendages are elongated images, slightly brighter than the sky, which occur in pairs: one of each pair is above the dark line and the other is below. Oddly enough, these elongated images are almost perfectly vertically oriented even though the dark line itself slants upward and to the left at an angle of about 20 degrees or so. Shown below are fields 4 - 7 showing the object which first appeared at the lower right (in field 1, not shown). By the time of these fields the object had reached about the center of the field of view. You can see the cloud at the upper left and the airplane at the upper right. The airplane is leaving the field of view as the camera rotates to the right to follow the airplane (which had just passed nearly overhead a second or so earlier). The appendages that are above and below the dark line are barely visible in this presentation, a result of digitizing a VHS copy of the original. The video original has slightly more contrast.


The fact that the line is dark against the sky indicates that the central body of the object is at least partially if not completely, opaque, i.e., it has blocked some of the skylight. On the other hand, the central body didn't reflect enough light to appear brighter than the sky. However, the "wings" or side appendages, a pair of which appear twice in each field, are slightly brighter than the sky.


If it weren't for the fact that the object appeared to go behind a cloud this video would be immediately relegated to the class of videos which show nearby insects that happened to zip by close enough to the camera to be out of focus and appear to be traveling at a high rate of speed. However, one frame of the video imagery seems to rule out this "buggy" explanation. To establish a reference point for what the cloud image looks like when the object is notn passing the cloud position, look at the ninth field, which is shown in Figure 6 below:


Here we see that the image of the object clearly OVERLAYS one of the the wispy cloud images (see enhancement). Keeping in mind what this looks like, now look at the previous field, field 8, where IT APPEARS AS IF the view to the object was BLOCKED by a wispy cloud and also Figure 7 before the obbject reached the cloud.


The enhancement shows that there is apparently no darkening of the image of the wispy cloud where the image of the object WOULD cause a darkening if the object passed between the cloud and the camera, as happened in Field 9 (Figure 6). Just to be certain that one "knows where to look" to see the faintly dark line made by the moving object, note that the tiny hole in the cloud was darkened by the passage of the object. Connect the center of that hole with the nearest end of the dark line image and one gets a straight line that crosses the wisp of cloud. This is where the darkening WOULD BE if the object passed between the cloud and the camera (see notations on the enhanced image). The fact that the image of the object overlays a wispy cloud image in the 9th field but apparently goes behind a different cloud image in the 8th field is not an inconsistency. It would simply mean that the cloud in the 9th field was somewhat higher than the cloud in the 8th field and that the object was essentially at "cloud height."

Herein lies the mystery of this video. If the object had clearly darkened the image of the cloud one could argue that it was below the cloud, in which case it could be at any distance between the camera and the cloud and, in particular, could be close to the camera and hence small like an insect. But there is clearly no evidence of darkening of the cloud where the object "should" have crossed it.

Considering the implications of this "video fact" (strange, high speed objects zipping around) one must ask whether or not the failure of the object to make a slightly dark line across the wisp of cloud could be the result of anything OTHER THAN the altitude of the object (i.e., its altitude being higher than the cloud). For example, one could ask the following question: could the failure to show the object crossing (darkening) the image of the cloud be a momentary electronic artifact or "glitch" (a momentary failure of the camera)? This seems impossible to imagine because the nature of the assumed glitch would be strange indeed. This question assumes that the object DID pass beneath the cloud and DID darken the wispy cloud, but that the camera and electronics somehow failed to record the momentary darkening or "covered it up." Yet, the darkening of the (different) cloud in frame 9 shows that thepassage of the object "across" a cloud, with the resultant darkening of the cloud image, was not too fast for the camera to record. Furthermore, the cloud image in frame 8 where the object SHOULD have darkened the cloud looks exactly the same as it does in all the other frames (compare the cloud around the small hole in frames 4 - 9; there is no change.) It is inconceivable to me that the camera could fail momentarily and effectively remove the slight darkening of the cloud image along the line of motion of the object and yet make no other change to the image. I, therefore, reject this possibility. What other possible explanation might there be? (Added Nov 28: NOISE!!! See below!) .................................... This is a preliminary report which I am publishing with the hope that others will comment and analyze the video. The implications, if this imagery is "true" (the object was distant), are of considerable importance (high speed, large objects traveling through the sky at "invisible speeds"). Clearly, then, it is important to arrive at a concensus as to whether or not the object did pass above the cloud. If that is the consensus, then I will publish a more complete report (already largely finished) that includes calculations of the estimated size and speed of the object. ................................................... *************************************************** FURTHER ANALYSIS NOTES (added Nov 28): In an effort to elucidate the elusive evidence that the object passed in front of (i.e., below) the cloud rather than behind the cloud I present four more processed images. In all cases I have removed the color in order to concentrate on relative brightness levels. In the first, the contrast was increased during digitization of the VHS video such that the white part of the cloud saturated the response of the video display electronics. The response for typical pictures corresponds to 256 levels ( zero to 255). The brightness of an image is proportional to the brightness of the light source as long as the electronic equivalent of the brightness (in the camera it is a voltage level that has been quantized or digitized into 256 levels) does not exceed 255. If the brightness exceeds 255 then it is "assigned" the value 255 regardless of how much brighter it might be. Hence, by increasing the brightness of the portion of the image of interest here, i.e., the portion that shows the wisp of cloud where the object would have crossed, I have "automatically" saturated the portions of cloud image that were already bright. In Figure 9, below, I have pointed out a "gap" in brightness of the (now-much-brighter than in the previous figures) wispy cloud image. The presence of this gap seems consistent with the idea that the object did pass in front of the cloud, but the appearance or "look" of this gap is not thoroughly convincing because it does not seem to be as straight as the track of the object and because it does contrast does not appear to be as great as the contrast between the line image and the background sky. (NOTE: The letters A and the associated lines indicate the locations of the appendages, all four of which can be seen in good reproductions of this field. Unfortunately the additions of indicator lines and letter notations has introduced more pixel noise around the lines and letters that did not exist in the original. Do not use this image as a source for further picture processing.)
FIGURE 9 Field 8 The letter A designates the locations of the appendages
As pointed out above, the contrast between the brightness of the "gap" and the brightness of the nearby cloud does not appear to be as great as the contrast between the line image and the background sky. However, just because it does not appear to have as much contrast doesn't mean that it doesn't have as much contrast...the eye is not a good photometer (device to measure relative brightness). The actual contrast can be checked by measuring the relative brightness levels at points within the image. Figure 10 shows the same scene but without contrast or brightness enhancement.
FIGURE 10 Field 8
The numbers presented in the figure are the measured relative (digitized) brightness levels at several points in the image, said points being at the ends of the indicated lines. The number 98 is the relative brightness at a location within the line image made by the object as seen against the sky and the number 108 is the relative brightness of the nearby sky image. The ratio is 98/108 = 0.91 which means that using these two points for comparison the line image is about 9% less bright than the nearby sky. However, one finds that measuring at different points (actually difference pixels) in the image one can find other relative brightness levels for the line image such as, for example, 96, 97 and even as low as 88 (at the hole in the clouds), and other relative brightness levels for the sky image, e.g., numbers in the range 106 to 110 within the scene area shown in the figure. These variations are a result of electronic noise in the camera and electronics. The image of the sky should be perfectly uniform in brightness over the area of this image. However, as one can easily see, the image of the sky appears granular or "puckered," indicating that there are small brightness variations that were caused by electronic noise. Within the gap in the wispy cloud the relative brightness is indicated as 122, whereas the relative brightness of the adjacent cloud is indicated as 135. The ratio is 122/135 = 0.90. Again, these numbers change and hence the ratio changes somewhat from point to point. However, the near agreement between 0.91 (ratio of the line brightness to brightness of the blue sky background) with this ratio, 0.9 (gap to white cloud background) does suggest that the object did pass below the cloud. BUT..... To confirm this one should check the following and preceding images (fields) to see if the "gap" portion of the wispy cloud was brighter before and after the object passed by. Figure 11 shows field 9 with the brightness and contrast increased to show a gap, if any.
FIGURE 11 Field 9
Oddly enough, there appears to be a gap in field 9, "long" after the object has passed by. Clearly that would indicate that the gap was not caused by the object!! (The cloud itself did not change appreciably in the 1/60 second between field 8 and field 9.) BUT..... Now we must check field 7. This is shown in Figure 12, which also has increased contrast and brightness. Oddly enough, there does seem to be a narrow brightness gap, perhaps just at the "left side" of (or below) the location where the object would make its darkened line. There is also a blob of extra brightness just above the gap which appears to be directly in line with the path of the (oncoming, in frame 7) object.
FIGURE 12 Field 7
If that moderately-bright blob of cloud image in field 7 were an actual measure of the cloud brightness before the object arrived, and if the gap in brightness of the cloud in field 8 were an actual measure of the brightness of that blob as the object passed by, then the decrease in brightness from field 7 to field 8 would confirm that the object passed below the cloud. BUT..... Which is correct: field 7 or field 9? They seem to contradict one another, although field 7 does seem to show a slight gap, in which case the liklihood of field 7 confirming field 9 (gap existed before the object arrived) is greater than the liklihood of field 9 confirming field 7 (gap did not exist until the object passed by). Got that? Hmmmmm? If you feel confused, don't feel bad. You're not al;one. I, too, am confused. It appears that the comparison of fields 7 and 9 with field 8 raises more questions than it answers. The comparison does NOT confirm that the intriguing brightness gap in field 8 was caused by the passage of the object. What this comparison does confirm is that electronic noise is overwhelming the "signal" here. Electronic noise has "awesome powers." (No, not Austin Powers!!) It can create a gap where there should none and it can "close" a gap where there should be one! From whence cometh all this awesomely powerful noise? Let's review the steps from the orginal scene to what I have analyzed. The original video was made by recording images created by an analogue electronic image sensor device, a CCD silicon device that "converts" light into electric signals. This conversion is accompanied by a very small amount of photon (shot) noise, some thermal noise and perhaps 1/f noise added to the brightness levels in the image. The signal from each element of the CCD (each pixel of the image) was digitized before being recorded on a medium (tape, disc, whatever). The digitization process introduces quantization noise and there is some small noise inherent in the recording medium (tape/disc). When this was played to create my VHS tape the digitized signal levels on the original recording were converted to analog levels ("anti-digitization"), thereby introducing further noise into the signal. Finally, when I played the VHS tape the electronics added a small amount of noise and then the digitizer ("Snappy") added some noise when digitizing the image. The addition of noise at each step makes images such as the sky image, which should be quite uniform in brightness, seem grainy. After all these noise additions one may marvel that the whole system works at all. However, the added noise in each case is only a fraction of a percent of the brightness level or some small, fixed (independent of brightness) level called the "noise floor," so the total noise isn't great. But it is enough to make small signal levels, such as the brightness variations under study here, indeterminate. The total addition of noise to the signal in this VHS copy of the video corresponds to brightness variations in the range 5 - 10%, as one can determine by measuring relative brightness levels over small areas of the blue sky image, after converting the sky image to grey levels. When the electronically created image noise variation is comparable to the expected signal level (the expected signal is about an 8 to 10% decrease in cloud brightness), one cannot arrive at a conclusion. Bottom line: if this question is to be resolved it will be necessary to analyze the original digitized video or at least a digital copy of the original. . . . Are you listening, Fox 23?