Viral 'Photo' of Earth, Venus and Jupiter Seen From Mars Is a Computer Image

Since NASA's Perseverance rover touched down on the surface of Mars last week, social media users have claimed the rover took a photo of Earth, Venus, and Jupiter lined up in Mars' skyline. But these claims are false.

The image was probably computer-generated using planetarium software in order to recreate an event in which the three planets did indeed align from Mars' perspective. But that happened eleven years ago, and no-one got a photo of it.

One tweet, posted on Tuesday, showed the photo with the caption: "Earth, Venus and Jupiter as seen from Mars." At the time of writing it had received 35,000 likes and over 5,300 retweets.

Another tweet, posted Wednesday, showed the same photo along with the caption: "Taken from Mars, this is Jupiter, Venus and Earth. So damn cool!" That post got 15,400 likes and over 3,100 retweets and counting.

Several users replied to both tweets to let their authors know the image is fake. However, both were still live at the time of writing.

Earth, Venus and Jupiter as seen from Mars

— Ryan Haecker (@RyanHaecker) February 23, 2021

The false claims appear to be innocent and accidental, with one of the authors admitting they "really don't know" the details behind the image: "I just think it's cool."

The claim that the image is a real photo has been debunked numerous times. In 2012, author Phil Plait, writing for Discover Magazine, said the image was likely produced using some sort of planetarium software based on the fact the letters 'NE' are slightly visible in the bottom-left corner.

Plait said these referred to compass directions as in "northeast." Planetarium programs use these to let users know which direction they are facing.

The author claimed to have used planetarium software himself and found that in mid-2010 the planets would indeed have lined up in a way similar to the circulating image. This was corroborated by amateur astronomer Rob Tilsley, who sent the below image to Newsweek.

SkySafari image of the solar system
A screenshot of Venus, Jupiter, and Earth (with Uranus in the background) as they would have been seen from Mars in July 2010. Taken by Rob Tilsley using SkySafari software. Rob Tilsley/SkySafari

Tilsley confirmed to Newsweek he had used the SkySafari solar system simulation software to produce the above image, and said that is how the planets would have looked from Mars' perspective on July 11, 2010. Another version is seen below.

Screenshot of SkySafari software
Another screenshot of the simulated planets in July 2010 as they would have been seen from Mars with the simulator interface visible. Taken by Rob Tilsley using SkySafari software. Rob Tilsley/Twitter/SkySafari

The exact origin of the image that is confusing social media users is unclear, but it dates back to at least 2012, when Tumblr user theweeklyansible posted it to their page. When users pointed out it was fake, the user apologized, and said: "If I had known I woulda looked into it more carefully. I'm sorry if you feel misled."

The user said they believed that the original image "came from George Takei's Facebook"—the actor who famously played the Hikaru Sulu character in Star Trek.

Newsweek was unable to find any image matching the circulating picture posted to Takei's official Facebook page in 2012, 2011, or 2010.

Since last Thursday's landing, Perseverance has taken thousands of photos from the surface of Mars that are real, and they can all be viewed on NASA's website.

Martian surface taken aboard Perseverance
The first high-resolution, color image to be sent back by the Hazard Cameras (Hazcams) on the underside of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. Perseverance has so far sent thousands of real images such as this back to Earth. NASA/Getty

This article was updated with a name correction at 16:36 on 24/02/2021.