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

by Nancy Atkinson on September 16, 2008

\"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.


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

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