No, that's not a picture of a double sunset on Mars

By Phil Plait | August 13, 2012 12:52 pm

So Curiosity’s been on the Martian surface for a week, and we’re already seeing faked images touted as being real. The other day it was a more-or-less honest mistake of people spreading around a computer-generated view from Mars – originally meant just to show what the skyline looked like from there – thinking it was real.

Now though, we have what’s clearly an actual fake. Here’s the shot, getting passed around on various Tumblrs:

Now, I’ll note it’s not crazy to think this shot might be real; the Sun is very bright and in many cameras you can get reflections inside the optics, causing this double-Sun effect. It happens all the time. So you wouldn’t really be seeing two suns setting – just one real one and one that’s an internal reflection.

But that’s not what’s going on here, as I knew right away. That’s because I’m familiar with this picture:

That shot is also of the sunset, but it really is from Mars! It was taken by the Spirit rover in May 2005, a spectacular shot of the Sun setting over the Martian landscape.

And that’s where you’ll find the proof of double-sunset-fakery. Compare the double-sunset picture with the real one from Spirit, and you’ll see the profile of the landscape on the horizon is exactly the same. Clearly, the double-sunset pic was faked, adding in the second Sun. In fact, you can see that both images of the "Sun" in the double sunset picture don’t match the real one. In other words, both images of the Sun were faked.

Also, I couldn’t help but think the faked Sun images looked kinda familiar to me as well. Recognize them? Perhaps the picture here will help place them. Clearly, the faker must have come from some wretched hive of scum and villainy.

It may be this picture was created as a joke and got out into the wild, or maybe it was done on purpose to fool people. As usual with things like this, tracing it back to the original is a bit tough (though the Martian skyline picture from earlier was able to be pedigreed). I’ve seen it on several sites now, and I’ve gotten email and tweets about it. It was easy to debunk, so why not?

I don’t know if this image will go viral like the previous unreal one did; this is so obviously hoaxed that it may not have the same sort of traction. Still, it sometimes helps to get ahead of the curve here, and dowse these things with reality before they spread out of hand.

So if you see someone posting that image, send ‘em here. That way, we will crush the hoaxers with one swift stroke.

Image Credits: Mars sunset: NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell; Tatooine: Uncle Owen’s Wedding Photography Service (now defunct).

Related Posts:

An unreal Mars skyline
Gallery: Curiosity’s triumphant first week on Mars
Astronomers discover a wretched hive of scum and villainy
Hoagland = lose

Comments (41)

  1. stoneymonster

    Well, since the moon landings and these current mars missions were obviously faked
    in their entirety, why not let people outside the charlatan HQ at NASA in on the fun?


  2. Eric

    You’re taking an awful risk, Phil……this had better work. :-)

  3. …the “image credits”… awesome.

  4. Don Denesiuk

    All the ones with Marvin the Martian in them are for realz tho right?

  5. dessy

    Really getting sick of this rubbish in my feed when all I want to see at the moment is the HD descent images.

  6. If you’re gonna fake a picture of Mars, make sure it has a Martian ordering a Chick Fil A or something. Two suns isn’t even funny.

  7. Paul

    I wonder if the picture’s creator intended the two suns to be Mars’s two moons?

  8. The Tatooine reference was my first thought when I saw it; I assumed right away that it was intentional…

  9. Poul-Henning Kamp

    I think this one ought to give various PR departments food for thought.

    Pretty much any announcement from NASA or ESA is accompanied by some “artist concept of …” illustration, which more often than not gets taken to be the literal HD-truth, about something we have absolutely no idea about.

    I think NASA and ESA are shooting big holes in their own feet with these high-quality pieces of art: They make the actual science pictures look a lot less interesting to the public.

  10. CatMom

    I like the faked picture with Alien about to take a bite out of Curiousity. LOL!

  11. Two suns isn’t funny. Curiosity running over a Martian cat was funny; Marvin peering into the lens was funny; airbrushing a three-breasted hooker in was sorta funny. (Airbrushing a thoat in would be hilarious.)

    — Steve

  12. Wzrd1

    @1, stoneymonster, you’re awful!

  13. Keith

    Are there people out there who actually have to be TOLD this is fake?

  14. pk

    I had just assumed it was a sunset with Phobos or Deimos but cursory research leads me to believe that the moons would appear much smaller.

  15. Lindsey

    I’m confused as to how people would think it was real in the first place. I’d think the fact that our solar system has one sun would be pretty common knowledge. I can see how maybe they would think it is a picture of a sunset and there is a lens flare, but do people honestly believe that it is actually a picture of two suns? As if Mars somehow has two suns while Earth only has one?

  16. Tim Gaede

    Phobos and Deimos are two objects that would definitely be interesting when viewed from Mars.

    Deimos can be as bright as Venus appears from Earth but would be visible well after sunset. It is beyond the equivalent of a geostationary orbit and therefore rises in the East and sets in the West but it still moves at a speed of nearly 12°/hr relative to the stars. Phobos can be much brighter and since it is well within the geostationary orbit, rises in the West and Sets in the East. It moves at a clip of 47°/hr relative to the stars.

    I think if you were to settle near the Martian equator, you would frequently see partial eclipses of the Sun because the orbits of both moons lie within a couple degrees of the plane of the equator.

  17. Crudely Wrott

    I spotted the shenanigan right off. The Martian sunset picture has been my screen wall paper for a very long time.

  18. Keith

    Some of them are pretty darn funny, like one I saw today with two xenomorphs holding up a picture of the Mars-scape that Curiosity saw in front of it, obscuring an alien civilization behind. lol.

  19. James H. (south of Dallas)

    I have grand sweeping John Williams music going through my head now….

  20. Dutch Railroader

    I was stunned by the Tatooine sunset when I first saw it in 1977, but the astronomer in me is always bugged by it. Both stars are well-resolved and have the same surface brightness, despite their very different temperature. In reality, the blue star would be so blazingly bright you would never see the other star next to it…

  21. Nyetwerke

    Isn’t there something like EXIF data on the jpeg that could determine at least some of the information about the image? I recall that the image that was posted on the chans of the guy standing in the two lettuce trays was deciphered and they actually found out where he was!

  22. MichaelL65

    Well I posted it on my Facebook page with the Luke Skywalker image as well. I’ve also, along with many others, posted ‘shopped images of a VW Beetle, a Starbucks Cup and McDonalds on mars. Seriously, if people are so gullible to believe any of these images are real, they need more than a swift stroke of crushing debunking! A swif kick to the nether regions maybe would help.

  23. So Tatooine really is Mars, was my first thought when I saw the image. I haven’t read up on all the Tumblr posts but I doubt the image started off as a hoax, just another Star Wars related joke I guess.

  24. Nigel Depledge

    Dutch Railroader (21) said:

    I was stunned by the Tatooine sunset when I first saw it in 1977, but the astronomer in me is always bugged by it. Both stars are well-resolved and have the same surface brightness, despite their very different temperature. In reality, the blue star would be so blazingly bright you would never see the other star next to it…

    Ah, but Tatooine has a thick, oxygen-rich atmosphere, so the image of the sun closer to the horizon will be affected by more Rayleigh scattering. Tatooine’s two suns could be damn close to the same colour and surface temperature, and therefore also the same surface brightness.

  25. Are Twitter and Tumblr anything more than bullshit multipliers? OK, maybe something useful can be done, but isn’t the signal-to-noise ratio extremely low? (And I think that of the blogosphere is low compared to usenet. Not that there is no noise on usenet, but it is easier to ignore noise.)

  26. Dr.Sid

    If somebody thinks there can be 2 suns visible from Mars, he does not need debunking, but medical attention.

  27. Well, according to a survey a few years ago, 19% of the UK population think the Sun goes around the Earth… I really wish I was joking!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So maybe there actually are people stupid enough to think that Mars doesn’t have the same Sun as Earth does.
    Head, meet wall.

  28. sinep

    This is a good one! The reference to Tatooine was obvious to me too from the first sight, and actually seeing the original Mars picture and original Star Wars picture side by side was quite interesting – the pictures sure have a lot in common (except the number of suns and a jedi..)

    Merging the pictures is a clever pun, and makes me wonder if George Lucas ever visited Mars.

  29. Trish

    I agree with sinep. This picture is not a “hoax”. It’s just one of those Star Warsy type pictures that get passed around. Honestly, the landscape of Mars looks remarkable similar to that of Tatooine and I assume that was the inspiration for the picture. Anyone who has ever seen Star Wars knows those 2 suns. I knew what I was looking at the instant i saw this picture and I knew it was not intended to be offensive, just an interesting mash-up. Why take offense at something so innocuous?

  30. spiridonia

    Are there any images of Jupiter taken from Mars?

  31. F


    “I can see how maybe they would think it is a picture of a sunset and there is a lens flare, but do people honestly believe that it is actually a picture of two suns? As if Mars somehow has two suns while Earth only has one?”

    You mean you didn’t know that The Government has been hiding the other sun from us? Duh.

  32. Tim

    @21: I don’t think Tatooine’s two suns actually have different surface temperatures. One is lower on the horizon, which makes it appear redder. I’m actually pretty sure that they both have precisely the same surface temperature as our Sun :-).

  33. Buford

    I think you meant douse instead of dowse.
    I expect you would want to prevent or debunk dowsing rather than performing it on others.

  34. Scott

    A wretched hive of scum and villiany indeed… Brilliant! I thought it was an optics issue or maybe something not too obvious. I personally liked the one with the martians holding the “Humans go home” signs

  35. Spectre

    Where you say “both images of the ‘Sun’ in the double sunset picture don’t match the real one.” Surely this could be at least a real shot of the sun that has simply been composited with a second (perhaps earlier in the day or later in the morning) shot on Mars.

    Although the scale of the sun seems very different, that could simply be an example of different focal length lenses, as in this example or these ones Note how the objects in the background seem closer or larger as the focal length increases.

  36. Dave

    WHAT?? Star Wars is fake??

  37. Durr

    Well, I’m not an astronomer so I thought it could be the Sun and another moon, rather than two suns. Am I really a total retard?? Say it ain’t so!!! :(

    To all you commenters wishing me a “swift kick in the nethers”, or similar, I’m going to go perform a random act of kindness to make up for my crippling stupidity.


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