It could very well be one of the most successful pranks in the scientific community in some time. Étienne Klein, a celebrated physicist and director at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, successfully fooled social media into believing that the James Webb Space Telescope had taken an incredibly detailed photo of Proxima Centauri.
Proxima Centauri is the star closest to the Sun. But while great images of the star have been shared in the past, Klein’s photo was incredibly sharp. This was no surprise, according to the joker, as the James Webb Space Telescope is more than capable of capturing the most detailed space photographs to date.
“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 everyday,” Klein wrote on Sunday.
There was only one problem. The photo that Klein posted was no star. No, it was much more grounded than that. As it turned out, the troll scientist actually shared a close-up of a sliced chorizo taken against a black background. To be fair, chorizo slices have a very distinct color, and together with the scientist’s words, the piece of meat did look like it could pass for something else.
Klein later admitted that he tweeted a joke and that his followers should exercise caution when they see claims made online. “Well, when it’s cocktail hour, cognitive bias seem 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,” Klein wrote, to much backlash from Twitter.
The scientist ultimately had to explain his actions and apologize for the joke.
“In view of certain comments, I feel obliged to specify that this tweet showing an alleged picture of Proxima Centauri was a joke. Let’s learn to be wary of the arguments from positions of authority as much as the spontaneous eloquence of certain images,” adding that he wanted “to urge caution regarding images that seem to speak for themselves.”
People are just way too sensitive with this topic. A chorizo that fooled people into thinking it was a star?
That’s an amazing prank.