With its captivating images of far-flung galaxies, it’s safe to say the has captured the imagination of the world over. It was also recently the subject of a not-so-charming prank. On July 31st, Étienne Klein, the director of France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, shared an image he claimed the JWST captured of Proxima Centauri, the nearest-known star to the sun.
“The James Webb Space Telescope took the photo, according to Klein, who has more than 91,000 Twitter followers. “This level of detail… Every day a new world is revealed.” Thousands of people retweeted the post without comment because they took it at face value.
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
A couple of days later, Klein acknowledged that what he had shared was actually a picture of a chorizo slice against a dark background. “I feel compelled to clarify that this tweet, which purported to show a photo of Proxima Centauri, was a joke in light of some comments, “Klein said. Let’s learn to be just as sceptical of authority figures’ justifications as we are of some images’ impromptu eloquence.”
Klein later issued an apology for the practical joke and told the French news outlet Le Point (via Vice) that he had posted the picture to warn people about the dangers of fake news. He added, “I also think it wouldn’t have been as successful if I hadn’t said it was a James Webb photo. After everything was said and done, Klein revealed the most recent picture of the Cartwheel galaxy that the JWST had taken. This time, he assured his followers right away that the picture was real.