Image of Sun and Moon at the North Pole: Real or Work of Art?

by Nancy Atkinson on September 16, 2008

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\"Hideaway\" by artist Inga Nielsen

Has this image been showing up in your email inbox, forwarded on from excited friends? Along with it may be the following words: “This is the sunset at the North Pole with the moon at its closest point. And you can also see the sun below the moon. An amazing photo and one not easily duplicated. You may want to save this and pass it on to others.” It is a beautiful picture, but is it a real photo?

Even though this image was even featured on the iconic Astronomy Picture of the Day website, the image is in fact a work of art by artist Inga Nielsen, who is also an astrophysics student. The image was created with a computer program, and is called “Hideaway.”

Some internet hoaxes have real staying power (like the ‘Mars as big as the full Moon’ hoax) and this image falls into that “urban legend” category as well. It has been circulating around the internet for over two years, and being passed around as a real photo. According to Nielsen, “Someone cut out my name, called the image “Sunset at the north pole” and told everyone it was a photograph.”

Here is the artist’s website, and if you’re fluent in German, here’s an article about her.

The image was created using a scenery generator program called Terragenâ„¢. Before anything was known about the image, there were some great discussions on forums like Snopes and Hoax-Slayer. People offered some excellent arguments about the scientific and photographic elements that prove its not a real photo. So, if you have any doubts, go take a look. Their arguments are quite convincing. And of course, we now have the artist’s own word for it. Sorry, but no matter how many times you go to the North Pole (or anywhere on Earth for that matter), you’ll never see anything like this image portrays. From the Earth, the Moon and the Sun always have nearly the same angular size, which explains why solar eclipses can occur.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Jorge September 16, 2008 at 9:39 AM

Yeah, the angular size thing is a clear giveaway of this not being a true photo. Another one is the U shape of the crescent by the horizon, which only happens around the tropics, never in higher latitudes.

Still, it’s pretty image.

Jorge September 16, 2008 at 9:42 AM

Oh, and lemme pick a little nit here: you could have solar eclipses with these relative sizes. With the moon much larger in the sky than the sun, a total eclipse is pretty easy to happen. Almost as easy as a partial one. What would be really impossible in that configuration would be an annular eclipse.

Klaatu September 16, 2008 at 3:23 PM

Obvious computer generated fake with fractal terrain, impossibly large moon and complete kitsch.

Yael Dragwyla September 16, 2008 at 11:12 PM

Then I must be a connoisseur of kitsch — I’ve got Hideaway on my desktop. Gorgeous graphic! :-)

Astrofiend September 16, 2008 at 5:39 PM

Her website has some quite nice stuff. Shame there will always be these knobs out there that will peddle their internet hoax rubbish.

Bob LaMontagne September 17, 2008 at 8:26 AM

When friends would send me this I would reply that it is impossible to take a photo of the sun and moon together where they were not the same size in the photo. They would usually be offended because I spoiled the beauty of the image for them. I will admit that it is oddly soothing to look at.

Edwin September 17, 2008 at 8:03 PM

Yes also received this e-mail a few times claming to be a photo from the north pole.

It makes a good desktop wallpaper and the other images on the site are really good space art pictures, Inga is a talented space artist.

http://nielsen.sp01.ab-webspace.de/gallery/details.php?image_id=120&sessionid=908a0uecvq4r47ibubq8q5n3mnglqedt

The Gate to Nowhere is a really cool picture that could be from a planet high above the galactic plain.

Cheers Laintal

oscar September 20, 2008 at 6:54 AM

The first time that i´ve seen the photo i thought that it was an exoplanet art representation.

by the size of the “moon” and the geometry of the image

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