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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

A fake and a real view of the solar eclipse... FROM SPACE!

By Phil Plait

[First: CONGRATS to SpaceX for the successful launch of the Falcon 9 and deployment of the Dragon capsule! Everything looked great and things are apparently going smoothly. You can watch the whole thing here, and I'll have more about all this in a little while. Until then, back to your regularly scheduled blog post.]

Over the past couple of days, a lot of people are passing this image around, saying it's from the eclipse Sunday, taken by an astronaut from the International Space Station:

Here's the thing: it's not. It's actually a lovely piece of artwork done in 2009 by a Japanese artist who goes by the name A4size-ska on DeviantArt.

There are plenty of clues to show it's not real, if you know where to look. For one, the real eclipse was annular, meaning a lot of the Sun was still seen around the silhouetted Moon. That's not apparent here. Plus, the bright Earth (and Sun!) would wash out the background stars in a picture like this, so you'd not see them, and certainly not the Milky Way (the fuzzy band under the eclipse in the artwork).

The picture is certainly realistic otherwise! The artist notes he used images from the European Southern Observatory; the Earth and Milky Way are both clearly real shots.

If you're curious about what the view really looked like from the ISS, then here you go:

Isn't that awesome? In an earlier post I put that up an image from that video as well as a pile of other eclipse shots (including two more from space). Universe Today has a bunch more, too.

As far as the not-real picture goes, I'm guessing some wag decided it would be funny to post it as the real thing; that happens a lot on the Internet. I'm not surprised people got fooled by it; excitement was running high during the eclipse and it's easy to overlook the details. I'll note that during the live webcast we did someone sent in a picture of the eclipse with an airplane passing in front; that turns out (as far as I know) to be a real picture, but taken in 2010! Funny; when I saw it my first thought was to wonder if it was a fake, but after looking at it for a moment decided it was real. True enough, just not from this eclipse!

The lesson here is to take any image you see on the 'net with a grain of salt. That doesn't mean you yell "FAKE" right away (I find that irritating, honestly, since it's usually just a knee-jerk reaction), but it's usually worth taking a moment to assess things. I've been fooled before, and I'm sure it'll happen again. Sometimes it's easy to know something's not real (like the Sunset at the North Pole drawing) but other times it can be hard. And there are folks out there who delight in this sort of thing.

In other words: it's the Internet. Have a care!

Image credits: A4size-ska on DeviantArt; National Geographic. Tip o' the digital pad stylus to SciBuff for the eclipse video, Mike Sperry for pointing out the original eclipse art, and to Joe Yerdon for finding the link to the original jet picture.

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