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Space telescope image of distant star was actually a slice of chorizo, says top scientist

"This level of detail... A new world is unveiled every day," he said when he posted the picture

August 8, 2022 5:13am

Updated: August 8, 2022 10:31am

A French scientist apologized after tweeting what he claimed to be an image of a distant star taken by the James Webb Space Telescope but in reality, was a slice of chorizo. 

Physicist and director at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission Etienne Klein shared the image of the “star” on Twitter last week, claiming it provided an unprecedented “level of detail.” 

"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,” he posted on July 31.  

"This level of detail... A new world is unveiled every day," he added. 

Thousands of users commented and retweeted the image of the “distant star.” 

In a series of follow-up tweets, Klein admitted that the image was not a picture of a star, but instead was a close-up of a slice of chorizo taken against a black background. 

"Well, when it's cocktail hour, cognitive bias seems to find plenty to enjoy... Beware of it. According to contemporary cosmology, no object related to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere else other than on Earth," he posted. 

After facing a backlash from followers for the prank, Klein apologized on Wednesday saying he intended to "urge caution regarding images that seem to speak for themselves."

As an apology, he shared an image of the Cartwheel galaxy, assuring Twitter users that the photo was genuine this time around. 

After going viral, Klein further explained that the picture was only meant as a joke in an interview with Le Point

"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 Telescope is the most powerful telescope ever launched into space. It began its scientific operations on July 12 after being launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. The first images that the telescope took were released by NASA in July.