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- This isn’t a real photo from Mars. It appears to be a computer-generated image.
Since landing on Mars on Feb. 18, NASA’s Perseverance rover has beamed images from the planet back to Earth. But one that’s recently been circulating on Facebook isn’t one of them.
The image shows a red, rocky surface and three glowing orbs in the sky that resemble Orion’s Belt.
"Earth, Venus and Jupiter as seen from Mars," one post sharing the image says.
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph in Canada who helped develop equipment for NASA’s Mars rovers, pointed us to the first image ever taken of Earth from the surface of Mars.
The black-and-white photo was taken in 2004, and doesn’t look nearly as crisp as the image in the Facebook post, which Gellert said "sure looks fake."
A more recent photo, taken by the Curiosity Mars rover, shows Earth and Venus in June 2020. It also bears little resemblance to the Facebook photo.
Searching for images, videos and audio that included Mars, Earth, Venus and Jupiter on NASA’s website, we found 15 results, but none like the image in the post.
A NASA spokesman told PolitiFact that the image is not from the agency.
Edwin Kite, a geophysical sciences professor at the University of Chicago who studies Mars, told us that it’s not even a real image. Rather, he said it looks like a simulated image.
"Mars rovers have imaged Earth and Venus in the past," he said, and they "also sometimes image Mars’ moons, Phobos and Deimos."
The image in the Facebook post has been online since at least 2012, when Discover magazine wrote about what it called "an unreal Mars skyline."
The writer, Phil Plait, said in the story that he knew right away "it wasn’t legit."
"The landscape color is a bit too saturated for Mars," he said. "The sky’s the wrong color. The clouds are too numerous, the wrong color as well, and they have that ‘rendered software’ look to them."
That hunch proved out: He noticed the letters NE in the bottom left corner of the image — barely visible in the Facebook post — and noted that they’re the kind of markers used in planetarium software to indicate which direction a user is looking.
The picture isn’t a hoax, he said, "just a computer generated image probably meant to represent a real scene."
Had such a photo been taken, it would have appeared widely in the media as the previous NASA photos of Earth from Mars were.
There’s no such coverage of this image.
We rate the post False.
Facebook post, Feb. 21, 2021
Business Insider, Stunning photos from NASA’s new Mars rover reveal 200-foot cliffs, mysterious rocks, and the perfect touchdown, Feb. 23, 2021
NASA, You are here: Earth as seen from Mars, March 11, 2004
NASA, While stargazing on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover spots Earth and Venus, Feb. 24, 2021
Discover, An unreal Mars skyline, Aug. 10, 2012
Email interview with Ralf Gellert, associate professor, University of Guelph, Feb. 24, 2021
Email interview with Edwin Kite, assistant professor, University of Chicago, Feb. 24, 2021
Email interview with Sean Potter, media relations specialist, NASA, Feb. 24, 2021
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