A French scientist has apologized after fooling social media users into thinking he had published the latest image from the powerful James Webb space telescope.
The new telescope received global attention last month after NASA published some of the most high-resolution photos in space history.
Capitalizing on the fanfare surrounding the telescope, French physicist Etienne Klein posted a photo of a fiery round red shape, claiming it was a detailed photo of the star Proxima Centauri.
Klein, the director of research at France’s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and a radio show producer, captioned the image saying “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. This level of detail… A new world is unveiled every day.”
Given that Klein boasts almost 100,000 Twitter followers, the striking image of the supposed star gathered rapid attention on social media platforms.
However, in a series of later tweets, Klein told users that the image was in fact a hoax, and that the red circular shape was a slice of Spanish chorizo 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 cocktail hour, cognitive bias seems to find plenty to enjoy… beware of it. According to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth,” Klein tweeted.
Klein seemed to be attempting to teach his followers a lesson — “to be wary of arguments from people in positions of authority as well as the spontaneous eloquence of certain images,” he said.
However, given the climate of misinformation littering social media platforms, users were left unamused, with many criticizing him.
In an attempt at damage control, Klein told his followers: “I come to present my apologies to those who may have been shocked by my prank, which had nothing original about it…[it was] a scientist’s joke.”
In an attempt to win back the trust of his social media followers, Klein proceeded to post the actual James Webb telescope image of the so-called Cartwheel Galaxy, released by NASA in July.
Located around 500 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Sculptor, the Cartwheel gained its shape during a spectacular head-on collision between two galaxies.
The impact sent two rings expanding from the galaxy’s center, “like ripples in a pond after a stone is tossed into it,” NASA and the ESA said in a joint statement.