Earlier this week, French physicist Etienne Klein appeared to post a photo of Proxima Centauri, the nearest known star to our own, located about 4.2 light-years away. The picture was beautiful and quickly gained thousands of likes.
There was just one problem: the picture was actually just a bit of chorizo.
As translated by IGN, Klein originally posted the photo with the caption: “Closest image of Proxima Centauri, the star closest to the Sun, located 4.2 light-years away. It was taken by [James Webb Space Telescope]. This level of detail…a new world is revealed day after day.”
Photo of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light years from us.
She was taken by JWST.
This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day. pic.twitter.com/88UBbHDQ7Z
— Etienne KLEIN (@EtienneKlein) 31 July 2022
It soon became clear that the picture was fake; a scientist’s practical joke.
“When it’s aperitif time, cognitive biases seem to have a field day, so watch out for them,” Klein tweeted. “According to contemporary cosmology, no item belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth.”
He then warned against misinformation online.
“When I see 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 must be careful with 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.
Fortunately there is lots of actual images from the James Webb Space Telescope, which was successfully deployed on January 24. The telescope’s mission is to see objects too far away 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