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Camera catching shuttle 'zap' had own glitch

Posted By Joe Kovacs On 02/06/2003 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled

As interest skyrockets in an unreleased photograph purporting to show the space shuttle Columbia being “zapped” by some kind of purple electrical phenomenon, WorldNetDaily has learned that the digital camera model which took the picture has been known to have its own color glitches.


Nikon 880 digital camera

The Nikon 880 occasionally produces a purple fringe around the edges of some photographs, said a top Nikon official.

“It was a complaint [we heard from users],” said Michael Rubin, senior product manager for Nikon Inc. “Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t.”

The issue of the camera’s reliability has been raised since an amateur astronomer using an 880 claims to have captured a mysterious image of a bright, multi-colored flash surrounding the orbiter shortly before it disintegrated Saturday morning.

“Wow.”

That was veteran astronaut Tammy Jernigan’s stunned reaction Tuesday night when she viewed the photo at the home of the San Francisco man who documented the shuttle’s early morning re-entry into the atmosphere and flyover of the Bay area.


Former astronaut Tammy Jernigan

“It certainly appears very anomalous,” Jernigan told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We sure will be very interested in taking a very hard look at this.”

Reporters from the Chronicle are among the few people who have seen the image, as the photographer says he won’t release the photo publicly until NASA has a chance to review it.

“In the critical shot,” stated the Chronicle, “a glowing purple rope of light corkscrews down toward the plasma trail, appears to pass behind it, then cuts sharply toward it from below. As it merges with the plasma trail, the streak itself brightens for a distance, then fades.”

“[The photos] clearly record an electrical discharge like a lightning bolt flashing past, and I was snapping the pictures almost exactly … when the Columbia may have begun breaking up during re-entry,” the photographer originally told the paper Saturday night.

A misquote concerning an early statement by the man led to some confusion about digital versus traditional analog images.

“I couldn’t see the discharge with my own eyes, but it showed up clear and bright on the film when I developed it,” the astronomer was originally published as saying. But the Chronicle has clarified that the device is indeed a Nikon 880 digital camera which has no need of film to be developed.

Nikon says unless it examines the San Francisco photo, it would be pure speculation to know if the “purple rope of light” has anything to do with any defect in its device.

“Without seeing the image, it’s like a blind person guessing what blue sky looks like,” Rubin told WorldNetDaily.

He says it’s “color interpolation combined with chromatic aberration” that causes the purple fringe around the edges, and can occur when the lens is wide open, there’s high contrast, and what normally would be a white line could appear purple.

In an online evaluation of the Nikon 880 when it debuted in 2000, photography expert Phil Askey of Digital Photography Review noted he had trouble re-creating the chromatic glitch, except in one instance.


An example of ‘purple fringe’ aberration by Nikon 880 (photo courtesy DPReview.com)

“We waded through our 1000-plus ‘real life’ shots looking for an example of purple fringing but couldn’t find any,” Askey wrote. “Oddly, though, our test shot (black card with a pattern cut into it shot against a window, deliberately overexposed) produced the same amount of fringing as we saw in the 990 [model].”

Overall, Askey raved about the reliability of the camera.

“The 880 has the best overall image quality of any 3 megapixel compact digital camera in its ‘size league.’ … Images were excellently metered (thanks to Nikon’s matrix metering system), well color-balanced (erring on the side of neutrality rather than oversaturation), great resolution and detail definition.”

While the camera in question was reportedly flown to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, a NASA spokesman was not available yesterday to comment on the device or the mysterious picture.

And although shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore did not make a specific reference to the San Francisco image during yesterday’s news briefing, he did say all photographs in connection with Columbia would be studied closely.

“We’re working information from all sources – public and government,” he said. “We’re searching all avenues to see if there is some information that can come to the table to help us understand the events.”

He called upon the public to submit any photographs of the disaster directly to NASA.

Meanwhile, it seems many are begging to get a glimpse of the “zap photo,” even Nikon’s public-relations agency.

“I’d love to see the photo with something 40 miles up,” said Brian Williams of the MWW Group. “Forty miles is a hell of a distance. It could be a great tool for the committee investigating the disaster, or it could just be an aberration.”


Related stories:

Astronaut ‘e-mailed brother about wing’

NASA probes ‘electric zap’ mystery photo

Photos: Mystery flashes spotted near shuttle


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