An eye-catching image of the sun setting below the moon is too perfect to be real.

Fake ‘North Pole sunset’ image is just a bad moon rising

AAP FactCheck June 18, 2021

The Statement

A Facebook post from a New Zealand user claims to show a recent – and spectacular – sunset at the North Pole.

The image, which shows a faint red sunset and gigantic crescent moon above it on a snowy mountainous horizon, carries the caption: “This is the sunset at the North Pole with the moon at its closest point last week. A scene you will probably never get to see in person, so take a moment and enjoy. And, you also see the sun below the moon. An amazing photo and not one easily duplicated. You may want To pass it on to others so they can enjoy it.”

The post finishes with a call to share, citing a “Chinese saying” about sharing objects of value.

At the time of writing, the June 6 post had been viewed more than 15,000 times. The same image with similar text has been posted to Facebook hundreds of times since as early as 2014, with some examples generating tens of thousands of shares.

A Facebook post
 A post claims to show the sunset at the North Pole with the moon at its closest point last week. 

The Analysis

The post’s widely-shared image is certainly stunning – but it is not a photograph, was not taken “last week” and does not show the North Pole as claimed in the posts. In fact, the image is a digital artwork by a German artist that has been circulating on the internet for at least 15 years.

Hamburg artist Inga Nielsen creates fantasy art and for years her work Hideaway has been credited on social media and elsewhere on the internet as showing “sunset at the North Pole”.

Nielsen debunked the claim about her photorealistic image in a caption on her website: “After someone spread it on the web as (a) photograph of a ‘Sunset at the north pole’, this image became quite popular. It is of course not a photo and it does not show a place anywhere near the terrestrial North Pole.”

She also addressed the same false claim on her Facebook page in 2011, writing: “I never intended this to be a sunset on Earth. This is an alien world thousands if not millions of light years away.”

Nielsen told the Hoax Slayer website that her creation went viral because someone “cut out my name, called the image ‘sunset at the north pole’ and told everyone it was a photograph”.

Although social media captions say the image was taken “last week”, Nielsen’s artwork featured as NASA’s “astronomy picture of the day” in June 2006 and reportedly started circulating via email as early as 2005.

Nielsen has previously explained that she uses both Terragen, which renders realistic natural environments, and Photoshop for her work. She credits both platforms in the image’s caption.

Her digital artwork shows the moon and sun as dramatically different in size, a phenomenon that is not possible when both are viewed from earth. This is because the angular diameter of the moon and sun – the size they appear in the sky – are almost identical.

While the sun is around 400 times bigger than the moon in diameter, the moon is 400 times closer to the earth. This “cosmic coincidence” means they appear as the same size, which is why the moon conceals the sun during a solar eclipse.

While it is true the moon can look somewhat bigger against the horizon at times – a phenomenon called the “moon illusion” – as other fact checks have noted, it is impossible that it could appear hundreds of times bigger than the setting sun as depicted in Nielsen’s artwork.

The Verdict

The image is not a photo of a sunset taken “last week” at the North Pole, as claimed in the post. It is a digitally created image that dates back to at least 2005 and depicts an imaginary landscape. The scene it depicts – of the moon and sun as dramatically different sizes – is also scientifically impossible.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

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