A French scientist is in hot water after he trolled his Twitter followers with a picture of what he said was of a distant star taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. In reality, it was a piece of sausage.
On July 31, French scientist Étienne Klein tweeted an image of a glowing red circle with a caption saying it was Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun.
"Picture of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light years away from us. It was taken by the James Webb Space Telescope," said Klein, a physicist and director at France's Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, in the translated tweet.
"This level of detail... A new world is unveiled everyday," he added.
The post received thousands of likes on the platform, but Klein later admitted the picture was not of Proxima Centauri, or of anything found in space. In fact, it was simply a picture of chorizo, a type of smoked sausage.
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
"Well, when it's time for the aperitif [an alcoholic drink], cognitive biases seem to have a field day," he later tweeted.
"Beware, then, of them," Klein continued. "According to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth."
Klein then followed up the message by saying the fake astronomy image was only meant as a "form of amusement."
"In view of some comments, I feel compelled to clarify that this tweet showing an alleged snapshot of Proxima Centauri was a form of amusement," he explained in a translated tweet.
He added: "Let us learn to be wary of arguments from authority as much as of the spontaneous eloquence of certain images…."
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In an interview with Le Point, Klein further explained that the picture was meant as a joke.
"This is the first time I've made a joke when I'm more on this network as a figure of scientific authority," Klein said. "The good news is that some immediately understood the deception, but it also took two tweets to clarify."
"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 James-Webb photo, it wouldn't have been so successful," he explained.
The James Webb Space Telescope launched last December on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, South America. The first images from the telescope were released by NASA in July.