How to spot a deep space fake

Want to know how to spot a deep fake from space? Images of stars taken by the Hubble Telescope, launched 32 years ago, have four points. Photos from the James Webb Space Telescope — or as some are calling it, the Harriet Tubman Space Telescope — have eight visible points emanating from the image, "a quirk that emerges from the quantum mumbo-jumbo of how incoming photons lap against this telescope's structure and are then gathered up by its hexagonal mirrors." So, if you see images of four-pointed stars claiming to be from the newest telescope, rest assured that it is a deep space fake.

Pete Lawrence at BBC's Science Focus explains the "quantam mumbo-jumbo behind the eight points.

"Diffraction spikes are typically produced in telescopes which use a secondary mirror held in front of the main mirror; it's the secondary supports that create them. The JWST has a secondary mirror held in front of the main segmented mirror. There are three supports, one vertical and two angled at 150º to the vertical. Both edges of each support produce a diffraction spike at right angles to the edge. As a result, the three supports produce six diffraction spikes….Clever design means that four of the secondary support spikes overlap four of the mirror section spikes and are hidden as a result. Look at a star in one of the JWST's images and you'll see the six large spikes from the hexagonally segmented primary mirror, plus two smaller ones from the vertical secondary support."

This is significant to determine who is trying to pass off fake images of sausages as stars and nebula and other such amazing images, or claim that the images are fake, simply the work of NASA scientists using new-fangled software. Okay, no one used the word new-fangled, but the sausage story is real.

Consider: these images are not photographs; according to Tim Fernholz at Quartz, "They are data visualizations! And that data is the impact of photons—light energy—on very sensitive circuits a million miles away from us. The various sensors on the Webb Telescope measure that energy and send that data back to earth, where it can be rendered into something human eyes can see."