The Hack and the Quack

Page 6 of 11

Puerto Rican UFO investigator Antonio Huneeus says the case involved a man named Amaury Rivera who claimed he was abducted by aliens on his way home from work in 1988 and managed to get a picture of their spacecraft as it left with three Tomcat jets in hot pursuit. Huneeus says that UFO enthusiasts who were convinced of the truth of Rivera's story early on now dismiss it as a hoax after, among other things, a photographer named German Gutierrez admitted that he had helped Rivera fake his snapshots.

But Huneeus points out that the case has still played prominently in Mexico, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Argentina and Taiwan, always with the startling revelation that NASA had confirmed the authenticity of Rivera's photographs.

Dilettoso admits that he was no longer working for NASA when he gave his analysis to Stevens, but he says Stevens had lost the analysis he had done three years earlier when he had been employed by the space agency.

"He came into my office and asked me to write the letter and, you know, I did," he says. "An Air Force colonel coming to me and asking for that letter, I at least took pause and said ahhh, all right, but this is not an official project," he says.

So Dilettoso did the favor for Stevens, who indeed is a former Air Force colonel. He's also an ex-convict. Department of Corrections records show that he pleaded guilty to child molestation and spent five years in prison. He was released in 1988.

Jim Dilettoso is asked to explain how he can look at videotape of the March 13, 10 p.m. event and, using image analysis, declare that the lights are not flares.

He begins by explaining that the electromagnetic spectrum includes x-rays, infrared radiation, visible light.

And musical notes.
It's one of the least preposterous things Dilettoso says during a two-hour interview.

He's sitting in the conference room at Village Labs. In the next room, there's a bank of computers which has become a fixture in television footage filmed at the Tempe firm. On the walls and spread out over the large table are charts and diagrams which suggest that complex work happens here.

Dilettoso has finished his explanations about music as a form of electromagnetic energy (it isn't, of course, but it seems rude to interrupt), and he's now explaining how a camcorder can, even from miles away, record the finest details of a light bulb, such as its glowing filament, if you just know how to extract that image from the recorded blob of light. His computers can do just that, Dilettoso says.

If this were possible, astronomers and other scientists would gladly beat a path to Dilettoso's door. Unfortunately, there's something that prevents a camcorder from recording such detail.

It's called physics.
The power of a camcorder, telescope or other visual device to resolve a distant object is limited by its optics. The larger the mirror or lens used, the greater the power to resolve faraway things. That's why astronomers crave bigger and bigger mirrors for observatories--the bigger the mirror, the farther into space a telescope can resolve details.

With a lens less than an inch across, the typical camcorder has a rather myopic view of the world. Any light source more than a mile or so away simply cannot be resolved with any detail. Distant lights--streetlights, flares, alien headlights, even--become "point sources." Like the stars in the night sky, there's no detail to be made out in them.

The narrow lens of a camcorder focuses the light of a point source onto an electronic chip, which gets excited, so to speak, and releases a pattern of electrons, called pixels, that is translated into an analog signal which is put on videotape. What eventually comes out is your television's attempt to describe how the electronic chip reacted when it was struck by the light of a distant bonfire, for example.

The actual light from that bonfire is long gone, however, and has nothing physically to do with the electronic signal on your videotape.

Which is a shame. Astronomers have long known that you can learn amazing things from that original source of light.

Unable to reach the stars for tests, scientists figured out how to perform experiments on the light coming from them instead. Using prisms or gratings, astronomers separate that light into its constituent colors, called a spectrum, which allows them to determine a star's chemical make-up. This process is called spectral analysis.

Trying to do spectral analysis on the image produced by a camcorder, however, would be like testing a portrait of Abraham Lincoln for his DNA. The man and his image are two very separate things.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega