Did you see a stunning image of Proxima Centauri taken by the James Webb Space Telescope online this week? Sorry, you’ve been duped. The photo does not depict the nearest star to our Sun; it’s just a piece of chorizo.
This past weekend, French physicist Étienne Klein posted(Opens in a new window) an image on Twitter, and claimed the space telescope had taken the image of Proxima Centauri, which resides 4.2 light years away.
The image seemingly shows the nearby star’s red surface in a close-up view no other telescope has ever achieved. “This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day,” Klein wrote in the tweet. However, the French scientist later followed up the tweet with two other posts(Opens in a new window) to say the image was a prank intended to warn people about “cognitive biases.”
“According to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth,” he added.
Klein wasn’t the only one to post the prank image. Prior to Klein’s tweet, Astrophysicist Peter Coles made a similar joke with the same image: “These #JWST images just get better and better…” he wrote in his own tweet.
Still, not everyone realized they were staring at a slice of sausage instead of a star. Klein’s purported image of Proxima Centauri was retweeted 1,700 times and attracted over 12,500 likes.
To stop the misinformation, Klein on Wednesday posted another tweet, clearly stating the image is a fake (though the original tweet remains). “I come to present my apologies to those whom my hoax, which had nothing original about it, may have shocked,” Klein wrote(Opens in a new window). His goal was to urge the public to be cautious around fake news.
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“I also think that if I hadn’t said it was a James-Webb photo, it wouldn’t have been so successful,” he told(Opens in a new window) the French publication Le Point.
Not helping the matter is how astronomers have been sharing(Opens in a new window) real photos taken from the James Webb Space Telescope on Twitter, which can make it hard to decipher what’s official and what’s not. So it’s always a good idea to look for the original source of the images. You can also follow the official James Space Webb Telescope account(Opens in a new window) on Twitter for the latest captured photos.
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