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French physicist apologizes after saying Webb telescope photo of 'star' is actually a slice of chorizo

By NICK GARCIA Published Aug 05, 2022 2:35 pm

We've long heard of the expression, "To see is to believe," suggesting that the foolproof way of authenticating something is visual perception. But, as another expression goes, there's more than meets the eye—especially when dealing with astronomy and gastronomy.

A French physicist trolled the Twitterverse by posting a photo of a ball with deep red and orange hues, seemingly burning bright against the pitch-black background. Initially saying it's the latest image of a star by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, he eventually admitted that it's just good ol' slice of the smoky, spicy chorizo.

"Photo of Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light years from us," Etienne Klein, research director of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, wrote on July 31. "This level of detail… A new world is revealed day after day."

Klein's tweet started gaining traction and droves of users are feasting their eyes on the marvelous image. It has over 11,200 likes and 2,300 retweets to date.

But before things blow out of proportion, Klein wrote a follow-up tweet minutes later to set the record straight.

"Well, when it's time for the aperitif, cognitive biases seem to have a field day… Beware, then, of them," he said. "According to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth."

Hours later, he explicitly said that his purported photo of Proxima Centauri was a "form of amusement."

"Let us learn to be wary of arguments from authority as much as of the spontaneous eloquence of certain images," Klein told his 90,000 followers.

Some users, however, were not impressed with what he did, especially since disinformation is ever-prevalent.

"The only way not to fall into the manipulation of ill-intentioned people is to trust scientists. Many have seen your original tweet but not the patch. You should have clarified that it was humor in the same message," one user said.

"Etienne Klein, we need at least a few reliable reference people in this world and a certain number of us have decided that you are one of them," another user said. "So not too many deli jokes, the complexity of the universe stands on its own."

Others, meanwhile, were more forgiving and went along with the would-be joke.

"Can't wait for the first images of the Prosciutto Nebula," one user wrote.

"Flat Earthers are going to develop a new theory. The stars are actually chorizo," another user wrote.

In a separate tweet, Klein apologized for his "hoax," saying there's "nothing original about it" as he shared a report from a local news magazine. He explained that it's a "scientist's joke," and that he "simply wanted to urge caution with images that seem eloquent on their own."

Klein also tweeted a photo of the Cartwheel Galaxy as captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, making sure to include a parenthetical remark stating that the photo is "REAL this time."