Chorizo ​​or Proxima star? How this scientist fooled internet users

SPACE – Vegetarians, better abstain. Since early July, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has begun sending its first images from the far reaches of the universe. The very first photo was unveiled on July 11 by Joe Biden and shows “the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it existed 4.6 billion years ago.”

Enough to travel in time and space from the small planet Earth, but also to “feed” and “stimulate” everyone’s curiosity about the latest scientific discoveries. Even if that sometimes means being cheated by a few bright colors and a well-adjusted contrast…

In any case, this is the trick that physicist Étienne Klein, director of research at the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), has played on many Internet users. On his Twitter account, the scientist shared an image this Sunday, July 31, presenting a “photo of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light years from us”.

He specifies in his tweet that the image was taken by the James Webb Space Telescope and marvels: “This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day”.

Centaur Prosciutto

A cliché that is actually too “beautiful” to be true, except perhaps for aperitif… Having captivated a certain number of Internet users, Étienne Klein quickly made things clear: it is in no way a matter of a picture of Proxima Centauri , but a simple slice of chorizo ​​on a black background.

According to modern cosmology, no item belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth. “, he writes first, before adding: ” I feel compelled to clarify that this tweet showing an alleged snapshot of Proxima Centauri was a form of amusement. Let us learn to be wary of arguments from authority as much as the spontaneous eloquence of certain images… “.

Contacted by HuffPost, Etienne Klein explains that his tweets had above all an educational aim. ” This is the first time I’ve made a joke when I’m more on this network as a scientific authority. The good news is that some immediately understood the deception, but it also took two tweets to clear up. It also illustrates the fact that on this type of social network, fake news is always more successful than real news. I also think that if I hadn’t said it was a picture of James Webb, it wouldn’t have been as successful. “, he elaborates.

A number of netizens liked the tune, while others didn’t hesitate to go one better, as you can see below with what is very clearly the image of a pitted olive.

A reverse Google search shows that the image presenting a piece of chorizo ​​​​​​​​as a celestial object is not new, and that it was notably taken in 2018, this time presented as a lunar eclipse, for example.

As for the real star Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf, it looks like this as you can see in the image below taken by the Hubble telescope and provided by the European Southern Observatory. This is the star shown in the lower right.

A handout image provided by the European Southern Observatory on 24 August 2016 combines a view of the southern sky from the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile with images of the stars Proxima Centauri (bottom right ) and the binary star Alpha Centauri AB (lower left) from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.  Proxima Centauri is the closest star to the Solar System and orbits the planet Proxima b, which was discovered using the HARPS instrument on ESO's 3.6-metre telescope.  - Scientists announced on August 24, 2016 the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star closest to our Sun, opening the glittering prospect of a habitable world that could one day be explored by robots.  The planet is called Proxima b and is ia
Y. BELETSKY (LCO)/ESO/ESA/NASA/M / AFP A handout image provided by the European Southern Observatory on 24 August 2016 combines a view of the southern sky from the ESO 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile with images of the stars Proxima Centauri (bottom right ) and the binary star Alpha Centauri AB (lower left) from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Proxima Centauri is the closest star to the Solar System and orbits the planet Proxima b, which was discovered using the HARPS instrument on ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope. – Scientists announced on August 24, 2016 the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star closest to our Sun, opening the glittering prospect of a habitable world that could one day be explored by robots. The planet, named Proxima b, is in a “temperate” zone compatible with the presence of liquid water – a key ingredient for life. (Photo by Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO/ESA/NASA/M. Zamani / EUROPEAN SOUTHERN OBSERVATORY / AFP)

Y. BELETSKY (LCO)/ESO/ESA/NASA/M / AFP

Images provided by ESO showing an image of Proxima Centauri (lower right) and Alpha Centauri, lower left, taken by the Hubble telescope.

Beware of too beautiful pictures.

Nevertheless, Etienne Klein’s rants remain salutary in more ways than one. With the launch of James Webb, many Internet users improvise or pretend to be space specialists, thereby spreading false information or images on social networks.

For example, an image showing a “vacuum” in space was widely circulated this Monday on Twitter. The account, presenting itself as a popularizer, assured that it would be necessary to travel more than 750 million years in it before crossing anything there. The image in question actually featured the Barnard 68 molecular cloud, whose gas has the property of absorbing almost all the light emitted by the stars that surround it. Which gives a false impression of emptiness.

Regarding the James Webb Space Telescope, if you want to know all about the first images, HuffPost had devoted a very complete article to it in July, and available below.

Also look at The HuffPost: We’ve never seen a black hole like this

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