I have bad news for my fellow space-exploration lovers: That beautiful photo you saw this week of the Juno space probe approaching Jupiter is fake.


No, I am not one of those who believe that the moon landing was fake in 1969. I am sure that Juno — complete with its LEGO figurines of Jupiter, Juno and Galileo — is indeed circling the biggest planet in our solar system.

But the photo of Juno with Jupiter is fake. Actually, it’s not a photo; it’s an image of the planet and probe painted by an artist for the purpose of publicizing the arrival for NASA.

Juno does have a camera, but its images are not like those iconic ones we saw of other planets (especially Neptune) taken by Voyager 2 a generation ago. The real photos taken with the Juno camera show Jupiter in the distance, with its four moons circling the planet. The video that NASA released is actually a composite of countless still photos of the planet and its moons.

But you wouldn’t know that by reading news reports. Every major news source I have read, along with the science sites that focus on such stories, are posting artist depictions of Juno and Jupiter and saying “This is Juno approaching Jupiter.”

But, it’s not.

NASA says the probe will soon start sending up-close photos of the big planet, and we may see them within several weeks. But for now, the planet you see in the papers and on your TV and computer screens is just a very good painting.

The two photos that accompany this are courtesy of NASA’s page, which compares its Juno photos with one taken from Earth by an amateur astronomer with a very powerful camera.

What bothers me is that just about everybody in the media who published this drawing is calling it a photograph. It makes me wonder what else they aren’t noticing.