- Haha, good one, Monsieur Klein! We’ll never trust you again.
You should never blindly trust anyone, no matter what kind of an authority figure they are. We just got an important reminder of that.
Étienne Klein is a respected physicist, with particular expertise in the behavior of time. He’s received a whole slew of awards for his academic work, participated in designing the Large Hadron Collider, and is currently the research director at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission.
In other words, you’d imagine he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to science.
So, many people had no reason to doubt Klein when he posted on Twitter on July 31. In the post, he shared a picture of a red, spotty circle with his 92,500 followers.
The object, Klein claimed, was Proxima Centauri, captured by the new James Webb Telescope. Some 4.2 light years from Earth, it’s the nearest star to the Sun.
“This level of detail… A new world is unveiled every day,” Klein wrote in French.
As you’d expect, Klein’s followers marveled at the beauty of the red thing in the photo. It was so vibrant, with fascinating lighter splotches on its surface.
There’s just one problem. The thing in the photo is not Proxima Centauri — it’s not even a star.
It’s a slice of chorizo sausage.
In Space, No One Will Serve You Sausage
That’s fine, though. Everybody makes mistakes, right?
Well, this wasn’t a mistake. Klein tweeted the picture of the sausage star with full knowledge of what it is.
A couple of days later, Klein took to Twitter again. First things first, he apologized for misleading thousands of people with what probably came from his breakfast.
“In view of certain comments, I feel obliged to specify that this tweet showing an alleged picture of Proxima Centauri was a joke,” Klein wrote.
“I come to present my apologies to those whom my hoax, which had nothing original about it, may have shocked.”
It was a pretty good hoax, though. Klein photographed the sausage against a black background and it does look deceptively like a picture of a distant star.
Could that mean that there’s chorizo floating somewhere in outer space? No — at least not according to Klein.
“According to contemporary cosmology, no object related to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere else other than on Earth,” he tweeted.
But why did a famed scientist intentionally mislead so many people? In his own words, he wanted to teach us a valuable lesson.
“Let’s learn to be wary of the arguments from positions of authority, as much as the spontaneous eloquence of certain images,” tweeted Klein.
In short, he wanted to emphasize that we shouldn’t trust a seemingly self-evident fact posted by someone in a position of trust. You never know what kind of a trick they might be trying to pull.
Klein did post a new photo of the Cartwheel Galaxy to make amends, though. And this time, he assured us that it was real.
But Mr. Klein, how can we ever trust you again?
It’s All About Timing
Klein’s joke was well-timed. He posted the sausage photo just a couple of weeks after the real pictures from the James Webb Telescope were made public.
“I … think that if I hadn’t said it was a James Webb photo, it wouldn’t have been so successful,” Klein mused in an interview with the French news outlet Le Point.
The real photos from the telescope are stunning. Comparing them to Klein’s sausage, it’s actually kind of weird that anyone got fooled.
The $10 billion James Webb Telescope — intended to replace the rapidly aging Hubble — is the most powerful telescope ever launched into space. It captures sharper pictures from farther out in space than ever before.
In fact, thanks to the telescope, we’ve spotted the farthest galaxy humanity has ever observed. Appearing as a tiny red blotch in a crowded photo of stars and galaxies, the CEERS-93316 is 35 billion light years away from us.
Granted, we haven’t actually seen the galaxy. What the James Webb Telescope captured is only an afterimage of the galaxy as it existed 235 million years after the Big Bang — in other words, nearly 13.5 billion years ago.
Space, man. It’s fricking weird.