A red orb of spicy fire with glowing spots that glow menacingly against a black background.
This, declared the eminent French scientist Etienne Klein, was the latest astonishing picture taken ofof Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our Sun.
Other Twitter users marveled at the details of the image, allegedly taken by the telescope, which has thrilled the world with images of distant galaxies dating back to the birth of the universe.
“This level of detail… A new world is revealed every day,” he gushed.
But in fact, as Klein later revealed, the image was not of the exciting star just over four light-years from the Sun, but a far more modest slice of the lip-smacking Spanish sausage chorizo.
“According to modern cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth,” he said.
Klein – who has more than 91,000 followers on Twitter – acknowledged that many users had not understood his joke, which he said was simply intended to encourage us “to be wary of arguments from people in positions of authority as well as the spontaneous eloquence of certain images.”
But at a time when the fight against fake news is critical to the scientific community, many Twitter users indicated they were not happy with Klein, director of research at France’s Atomic Energy Commission and a radio show producer.
On Wednesday, he said sorry to those who were misled.
“I come to offer my apologies to those who may have been shocked by my prank, which had nothing original about it,” he said, describing the post as a “scientist’s joke.”
He was soon back on safer ground and posted a photo on Twittertaken by the James Webb Space Telescope. This time, he assured users, the image was real.
Last month, NASA unveiled other spectacular onesfrom the telescope showing interacting galaxies, the deaths of a doomed star, and a stellar nursery where massive young suns are born, blazing with stormy solar winds that shape vast clouds of gas and dust.
Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which mostly observes light in the visible part of the spectrum, Webb is optimized to study longer-wavelength infrared radiation, enabling it to capture light from the dawn of the universe that has been stretched of the expansion of space itself over the past 13.8 billion years.