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

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

It is enough to travel through time and space from the small planet Earth but also to “feed” and “awaken” everyone’s curiosity for the latest scientific discoveries. Even if this means sometimes being deceived by some bright colors and a well-balanced contrast…

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

He specified in his tweet that the image was taken by the James Webb space telescope and wondered: “This level of detail… A new world is revealed every day”.

Centaur Prosciutto

A cliché that is actually “beautiful” to be true, except perhaps for the aperitif… After being captivated by a certain number of Internet users, Étienne Klein quickly clarified things: this is not a ask an image of Proxima Centauri, but a simple slice of chorizo​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

According to contemporary cosmology, nothing belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere except on Earth. “, he wrote first before adding:” I feel compelled to clarify that this tweet featuring an alleged snapshot of Proxima Centauri was a form of entertainment. Let us learn to be wary of arguments from authority such as speaking aloud certain images… “.

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

Many internet users like the tune, while others do not hesitate to go for a better one, as you can see below with a very clear image of a pitted olive.

A repeated Google search shows that the photo presenting a slice of chorizo ​​​​​​​​as a heavenly object is not new and it was mainly taken in 2018, this time presented as an eclipse of month, for example.

As for the real star Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf, this is what it looks like, 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 hand-out image produced by the European Southern Observatory on August 24 2016, combines the view of the southern sky by the ESO 3.6-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile with images of the stars Proxima Centauri ( lower right) and the double star Alpha Centauri AB (lower left) from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.  Proxima Centauri is the closest star to the Solar System and is orbited by the planet Proxima b, which was discovered with the HARPS instrument on the ESO 3.6 meter telescope.  - Scientists announced on August 24, 2016 the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star closest to our Sun, opening up the sparkling prospect of a habitable world that could become a day can be checked by robots.  Named Proxima b, the planet is in a
Y. BELETSKY (LCO)/ESO/ESA/NASA/M / AFP A hand-out image produced by the European Southern Observatory on August 24 2016, combines the view of the southern sky by the ESO 3.6-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile with images of the stars Proxima Centauri ( lower right) and the double star Alpha Centauri AB (lower left) from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Proxima Centauri is the closest star to the Solar System and is orbited by the planet Proxima b, which was discovered with the HARPS instrument on the ESO 3.6 meter telescope. – Scientists announced on August 24, 2016 the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star closest to our Sun, opening up the sparkling prospect of a habitable world that could become a day can be checked by robots. Named Proxima b, the planet is in a “temperate” zone compatible with the presence of liquid water — an essential 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 the image of Proxima Centauri (bottom right), and Alpha Centauri, bottom left, taken by the Hubble Telescope.

Beware of overly beautiful pictures.

However, Etienne Klein’s mistake remains useful in more ways than one. With the launch of James Webb, many Internet users improvised or pretended to be space specialists, thereby spreading false information or images on social networks.

For example, a photo showing a “vacuum” in space circulated heavily this Monday on Twitter. The narrative that presents itself as a popularizer assures that it must travel more than 750 million years before crossing something there. The image in question actually presents the Barnard 68 molecular cloud, whose gas has the property of absorbing almost all the light emitted by the stars surrounding it. What gives the false impression of emptiness.

About the James Webb Space Telescope, if you want to know all about the first images, The HuffPost devoted a full article to it in July, and is available below.

See also at The HuffPost: We’ve Seen No Such Black Hole

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