A French scientist’s spicy tweet fooled the internet into believing a slice of chorizo was a detailed picture of a star captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.
Etienne Klein, research director at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, tweeted a photo on July 31st he claimed to be of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Sun. “This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day,” Klein tweeted.
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
The tweet was shared widely before Klein followed up, telling readers that “according to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth.”
“Some comments” forced Klein to issue a second follow-up tweet shortly after sharing the image of the ham star. “I feel compelled to clarify that this tweet showing an alleged snapshot of Proxima Centauri was a form of amusement.”
Speaking to the French team at The HuffPost, Klein said he intended the photo as a joke, and while many picked up on it immediately, “it also took two tweets to clarify,” he said.
While some Twitter denizens expressed amusement, and others upped the ante with suspiciously olive-shaped eclipse photos, Klein did take some flack from people who said the joke was inappropriate for someone with his level of scientific authority.
Klein issued an apology tweet on Wednesday, describing the prank as a “scientist’s joke,” and one that “had nothing original about it” to boot. What the image did do, Klein said, was show the importance of having a critical eye for truth on social media, especially in the face of “images that seem eloquent on their own.”
Je viens présenter mes excuses à ceux que mon canular, qui n’avait rien d’original, a pu choquer. Il voulait simplement inciter à la prudence vis-à-vis des images qui semblent éloquentes par elles-mêmes.La blague d’un scientifique https://t.co/wHiJWxscxq #Astronomie via @LePoint
— Etienne KLEIN (@EtienneKlein) August 3, 2022
“On this type of social network, fake news is always more successful than real news,” Klein told HuffPost.
Klein went on to share a James Webb image of the Chariot Wheel galaxy, located 500 million light years from Earth, after the hoax, assuring followers that the photo was “REAL this time …” ®