“This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day.”
How the Sausage is Made
Back on July 31, Etienne Klein, a prominent French physicist, took to Twitter to share an alleged photo of Proxima Centauri, one of the Sun’s closest neighboring stars.
The image “was just taken by the [James Webb Space Telescope],” he mused in the post. “This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day.”
But there was just one problem: it’s not Proxima Centauri.
In fact, this magnificent, planetary orb, a swirling masterpiece of dazzling reds and glowing orange, is just a slice of Spanish chorizo.
Now, Klein — who meant the post as a harmless prank — has had to make a public apology for causing any confusion.
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
Klein played off the prank in further tweets.
“When it’s time for the aperitif, cognitive biases seem to have a field day… beware, then, of them,” he continued in the Twitter thread, as translated by Google. “According to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth.”
To be fair, Etienne clearly didn’t mean to cause any turmoil. But as he is a major figure in the scientific community, a lot of netizens took his playful chorizo hoax at face value — which resulted in enough confusion that the scientist had to fully walk back his claims.
“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,” the physicist later confessed.
And given the frenzy around each and every fantastic image produced, we can’t totally blame folks for ignoring the context clues entirely.
Still, Etienne seems to believe there’s a lesson to be learned here.
“Let us learn to be wary of arguments from authority,” he added.
More on (real) James Webb stars: James Webb Catches a Glimpse of the Most Distant Star in the Universe