Earlier this week, French physicist Etienne Klein seemed to post a photo of Proxima Centauri, the closest known star to our own, located some 4.2 light years away. The photo was gorgeous and quickly amassed thousands of likes.
There was just one problem: the photo was actually just a bit of chorizo.
As translated by IGN, Klein originally posted the photo with the caption, “Closest photo of Proxima Centauri, the star that’s closest to the sun, located 4.2 light years away from us. It was taken by the [James Webb Space Telescope]. This level of detail…a new world is revealed day after day.”
Photo de Proxima du Centaure, l’étoile la plus proche du Soleil, située à 4,2 année-lumière de nous.
Elle a été prise par le JWST.
Ce niveau de détails… Un nouveau monde se dévoile jour après jour. pic.twitter.com/88UBbHDQ7Z
— Etienne KLEIN (@EtienneKlein) July 31, 2022
It quickly emerged that the photo was fake; one scientist’s practical joke.
“Well, when it’s time for the aperitif, cognitive biases seem to have a field day, so watch out for them,” Klein tweeted. “According to the contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth.”
He then warned against online misinformation.
“When seeing certain comments, I feel an obligation to specify the tweet showing an alleged snapshot of Proxima Centauri was a form of amusement. After this we have to beware of arguments from authority as much as the spontaneous eloquence of certain images.”
If Klein wanted to draw attention to misinformation, then mission accomplished. The tweet was reported in several major publications worldwide and continues to circulate online.
Thankfully, there are plenty of actual photos from the James Webb Space Telescope, which was successfully deployed on January 24. The telescope’s mission is to view objects too distance and faint for the Hubble Space Telescope. Its first image was tweeted by President Biden, and it has subsequently returned other images as well.
James Webb Space Telescope Images