Just weeks ago the world was astounded by the first photo of space shot by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST, see below). After such a milestone, it didn't seem farfetched that we might soon have imagery of our nearest star other than our own sun. And sure enough, just days later a photo of Proxima Centauri emerged.
The photo was shared on Twitter by a research director at a French scientific research body, who claimed that it was taken by the JWST. It certainly looks like a star, all fiery red with flecks of orange. But it turns out that not everything was as it seemed (if you'd like to have a go at astrophotography yourself, see our pick of the best cameras).
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/88UBbHDQ7ZJuly 31, 2022
The original tweet by Etienne Klein, research director at France's Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, has notched up over 20K likes and over 3K retweets. But while the photo certainly looks like an image of a star not too dissimilar from our own sun, it's not. And the trick was incredibly simple. It's actually an image of... a sausage. Yep, that flaming ball of gas is actually just a slice of chorizo as Klein himself later clarified.
Klein's original tweet translates as "Photo of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light years from us. She was taken by the JWST. This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day". However, he then clarified, "According to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth".
Klein pointed out that while his chorizo star was intended for amusement only, he also intended to show how we need to "be wary of arguments from authority as much as of the spontaneous eloquence of certain images" (just take a look at the weirdest AI art and how to use DALL-E 2 to see why).
Some people did not appreciate the joke, with several jumping in on Twitter to argue that as a scientist he shouldn't be tricking people with false claims – but then that seems to be exactly the point that Klein was trying to make – that we should doubt everything, even if comes from an apparently authoritative source.
The photo certainly shows the power of food styling. We could perhaps even add it to our list of the best optical illusions. Think you can create a similar prank of you're own? Check out the best photo editing software and the best monitors for photo editing to get started.