Fake Winter Solstice Image is Fake. But Cool.


Editor Note: We originally wrote this article back in 2008, but I’ve decided to pull it back out and share it again because this PHOTO WILL NOT DIE! It’s a beautiful image by Inga Nielsen, but it’s not real. – Fraser

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 studied astrophysics. 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 several 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 the artist’s website..

The image was created using a scenery generator program called Terragena. 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.

Why? The Moon and the Sun appear to be roughly the same size in the sky, no matter where you are on Earth. From the North Pole or the equator, they’re roughly the same size. And this is why we get total solar eclipses, where the Moon passes in front of the Sun, and covers it up. Although the Sun’s diameter is about 400 times larger than that of the Moon, the Sun is also about 400 times farther away.

So, the Sun and Moon appear nearly the same size as seen from anywhere on Earth. It is impossible to take an image like the one shown here from anywhere on Earth.

10 Replies to “Fake Winter Solstice Image is Fake. But Cool.”

  1. 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.

    1. The easiest giveaway is that this should be a winter solstice photo. Sun does not rise above the horizon in North Pole between Autumn and Spring equinox. And you can definately not see it above the horizon during winter solstice. That is just plain wrong.

  2. 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.

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

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. i could tell right away as a typical Canadian that is used to views from the north pole that it’s obviously a sunrise, not a sunset…

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