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

By Phil Plait | May 22, 2012 7:00 am

[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.

MORE ABOUT: eclipse, fake, jet

Comments (31)

  1. Artor

    The other problem with the first picture is that the shadow is shown on the cloud tops, but the eclipse is visible from the orbiting vantage point as well. You don’t get to see the eclipse if you’re not in the shadow.

  2. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    The lesson here is to take any image you see on the ‘net with a grain of salt.

    Wait, what?

    You mean those Unicorn pictures I found the other day might not be real???

  3. Nigel Depledge

    I think perhaps also that the Milky Way image might be subtending too small an angle to be real, given the size of the Earth in the image. Doesn’t the Milky Way go across about half the sky?

  4. Ryan Jean

    I saw it early yesterday morning in a facebook “share” by a friend. The original poster was passing it off as a real pic, and was caught repeatedly deleting comments that contradicted it. It took less than 30 seconds on Google to find the original deviantart post (where the artist even mentions how long it took to render and the program used) and get a high-quality version to use as a wallpaper.

    I posted it up on my facebook with a note saying that it was CGI but still beautiful, and linking back to the artist’s page. The original poster who was deleting comments was even mentioned in an alert on the artist’s page by some of the watchdogs. So far, I haven’t seen it fixed.

  5. Digitalaxis

    Apparently the Earth is actually a render from Terragen 2, not an actual photo. Sure looks realistic, though.

  6. Great post; the first thing that was apparent to me when I saw the “Eclipse From Space” image yesterday was that it depicted the Sagittarius Milky Way towards the core of our galaxy in the background; the Sun was in the direction of the constellation of Taurus during the eclipse Sunday.

  7. Reason why I thought it was fake was that the annular state of the sun is visible on earth, but the image suggests that it’s visible to a point that’s not in line with a point on earth (since you can see the earth from the picture).

  8. Robert

    I’m glad you posted this. A family member posted that first picture on their facebook the other day. I glanced at it, clicked “like,” then moved on to something else without even looking at it too closely. He also re-posted another one that seems to be going around which is obviously not real. http://nethskie.deviantart.com/art/High-Altitude-Eclipse-177573920?q&qo

  9. Chris

    OK, here’s a question. Do they ever see a solar eclipse on the space station? In other words, is the moon between the sun and the ISS?

  10. Jason

    Its a beautiful image, I just find it hard to believe that anyone with any astronomical knowledge can’t tell its fake right away. I’m nobody special. I’m just an elementary school teacher that likes to look through a telescope, but when I first saw this image the other day I knew instantly it wasn’t real. Maybe I subconsciously went through all of the reasoning steps Phil described, but to me it just didn’t look right from the very beginning. Its been a long time since I’ve been fooled by any of the “amazing” images that float around the net. I’m not trying to brag or anything, it just seems weird that people see things like this and don’t instantly raise an eyebrow.

  11. The text down in the bottom left that starts “3D MODELS…” was my first clue.

  12. Another hint at fakery is the halo around the Moon. If the Moon had an appreciable atmosphere, well, then you might see something like that… Lotsa red flags!

  13. XMark

    Heh, well, it’s fake but it’s soooo purdy. Wallpapered!

  14. Peachy

    @ (1.) Artor: I don’t think the shadow is that far off what it should look like (if at all). The point of view is near the edge of the shadow, and there is a source of light at the left edge of the sun (forming the “diamond” on the “engagement ring”) that would keep the point of view out of complete shadow.

    So what is that “diamond” supposed to be, anyway (besides artistic license)? A massive solar prominence? Or is this a binary system and we’re seeing a double solar eclipse (the nearer star eclipsing the farther star, and the moon or whatever eclipsing them both)? (Or is one star passing in front of another called something else.)

  15. Slim

    I wonder how far up in space you would have to be so that the annular eclipse would become a total eclipse?

  16. Pasander

    I did see a few stars in the middle of the day during the August 1999 total eclipse in Hungary. The temperature dropped from scorching ~35C to goosebumps chilly in seconds. I kinda knew what to expect but still I was overwhelmed. It was simply mindbogglingly unreal.

  17. Ian Dodd

    Ok, I’ll come clean. I’m exactly the person Phil is referring to. Yeah, I saw this, got excited and posted it to my Facebook page as did a number of my “friends”, many of them astronomy professionals. It was just hours after viewing the eclipse for myself through a beautiful telescope outfitted with a hydrogen-alpha filter. And, yes, I’m an amateur astronomer (that’s why I know about hydrogen-alpha) and I consider myself a skeptic so you would think I would know better. But here’s the point: critical thinking is a learned skill and it takes constant practice just to maintain, much less improve, your skill. We can ALL be fooled and this is a brilliant example of just how easily so.

  18. #13 Peachy:
    I take it you have never seen a total eclipse – otherwise you would be familiar with the “Diamond Ring!” I suggest you Google it.

  19. CR

    Jason (@9)
    I agree with your befuddlement over people just not ‘getting it’ regarding fake astronomy photos, but then I watch the news or read a newspaper and realize that (at least in the US anyway) a lot of what I percieve as common knowledge and common sense is completely unknown to many citizens. What’s worse is such people will argue with me over the ‘reality’ of some of these photos, then blow the whole thing off with a “whatever” or some silly comment. Sigh.

    I wonder when we’re going to see that ‘arctic moon’ picture again; it’s been a few months now since that one’s made the rounds…

  20. Jason

    @CR (#17)

    I’ve been doing some thinking about it this afternoon, and I’ve concluded that I based my judgement on the fact that there is just too much awesomeness in the picture (and others like it) to be believed. If someone shows me a picture of Nolan Ryan’s record breaking strikeout that also includes a beautiful lightning strike, a streak across the sky that they say is Haley’s comet, and a flock of penguins on the baseball field I don’t need to do much research to suspect its fake. I don’t really have to look up the date and time of his strikeout, cross check it with the weather and the comet schedule as well as news reports about stray penguins. That many special things happening at once and being captured in a photograph is just so unlikely I immediately find it suspicious.

  21. Pete Jackson

    @16Slim: Since the Moon only covered about 90% of the Sun’s diameter, you would have to go towards the Moon about 10% of the distance to the Moon before the eclipse became total. That is, about 25,000 miles or 38,000 km. That is about the height of the ‘geostationary’ satellites that orbit the Earth in 24 hours. But they are mostly orbiting over the equator and not over the mid-northern latitudes of this eclipse. So you would need one of those special ones that serve the polar regions and that would have to be in the right place at the right time to see the eclipse as total.

  22. Levi

    This blog post is fake. You can tell by the pixels.

  23. CR

    Heh, just realized I meant @10 in my last post, not @9. And yes, the “too good to be true” notion sends up flags for me, too.

  24. Peachy

    @ (19.) Neil Haggath: I’ve seen the diamond ring of an eclipse (in photos anyway – never had the oportunity to see one “in person”). In all the photos I’ve seen of a “real” diamond ring, it’s never looked like that. The “diamond” in the image above is much too far to the left.

  25. Richard Woods

    @25 Peachy

    “The ‘diamond’ in the image above is much too far to the left.”

    Yes, the artist failed to properly portray the irradiation illusion in which the bright “diamond” is seen to intrude upon the black shape of the eclipsing Moon.

  26. Tribeca Mike

    So, scientisty guy, you’re finally admitting that space is fake? This is a major victory for the forces of anti-reality, otherwise known as Mississippi.

  27. Tribeca Mike

    So, scientisty guy, you’re finally admitting that space is fake? This is a major victory for the forces of anti-reality, otherwise known as Mississippi.

  28. JMW

    Seeing the video of the shadow of the moon on the Earth’s cloud tops made me remember an old Isaac Asimov mystery.

    I can’t remember the title, but it wasn’t a science fiction story. It was one of his Black Widower short stories, in which a group of seven men have dinner at a restaurant once a month, and invite a guest. In the stories, the guest always has some sort of mystery to be unravelled, and in this one, the guest was a science fiction author who was trying to figure out a gimmick about photos of an eclipse, which would provide the motive for a murder.

    Asimove proposed having a picture of the moon’s shadow on the Earth, in a story written 30 years ago. And here we are!

  29. Dan

    This looks like Jupiter with a big scar on the left hit by a big asteroid called Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.

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