Stumping for religion

My mom forwarded me an email that purported to show an amazing picture. It was accompanied by a spiritual message that wanted me to appreciate God’s work. My mom forwarded it only for the picture, of course (and told me to ignore the silly message). It is rather striking though. Here it is:

Purported sunset at the North Pole

A scene you will probably never get to see, so take a moment and enjoy God at work at the North Pole.This is the sunset at the North Pole with the moon at its closest point. And, you also see the sun below the moon. An amazing photo and not one easily duplicated. You may want to save this and pass on to others.

The Chinese have a saying that goes like this:

When someone shares with you something of value, you have an obligation to share it with others!

What an amazing picture. It would inspire me to believe in a higher power if it were real, because what it is showing is clearly fake. The Sun and the Moon are both half a degree of arc in angular diameter in the sky when viewed from the Earth (this is just a coincidence of orbits and relative sizes). However, the Moon in this picture is at least ten times as large as what they purport to be the Sun, which is of course impossible. Anyone who’s ever looked up into the sky should know the relative sizes of the Sun and Moon, and it’s pretty obvious that this “photograph” is totally impossible.

So what are we really looking at in this image? There’s two possibilities. It could be an outright fake, the kind of drawing done for a fantasy book cover. In other contexts it’d merely be a pleasing illustration, but in this context, as a purported real photograph used to exhibit God’s work, it’s simply fake. The other alternative is that it is a real picture, but the other light isn’t the Sun, just Venus brightened up with a long exposure time. It still doesn’t work, though, as the luminosity of the Moon is greater than Venus (as viewed from Earth), so if Venus appeared that bright, the Moon would totally be blowing out the image. So I’m leaning towards illustration. I just don’t see what else it could be.

I do find it rather funny, though, that a conversion email trying to get me to believe in God merely because some things in this world are beautiful fails even at that, because they couldn’t even find a real photograph to use. Sad. And what does it say about the intellects of the people who actually do fall for this evangelizing scam, those so gullible that they don’t even realize this image of “God’s work” doesn’t reconcile with their own decades of personal experience of what objects in the sky really do look like? Is it ethical to be evangelizing using a scam? What happens when the converted realize such?

Update: Looks like I should have checked Snopes first. This has been circulating the Internet since 2005 and is a CG image made with the software Terragen.

3 Responses to “Stumping for religion”

  1. Darmok Says:

    Yeah, that is really is surprising that so many people would fall for such a fake. It doesn’t take detailed astronomy knowledge to see that the image is totally implausible…I mean, it’s not as if one has to formally analyze the picture. The sizes are so ridiculous that I didn’t even realize that was supposed to be the moon—I just figured it was some ice crystals reflecting the sun’s light or something.

    Incidentally, there’s really no sunset at the North Pole, right? The sun just sort of spirals down and over a few days will totally disappear, I would guess.

  2. Cyde Weys Says:

    Yeah, sunset at the North Pole is probably a week-long event. At the poles the Sun basically stays at the same elevation in the sky, just rotating around once every 24 hours. The Sun only rises and sets once per year.

    I do wonder about the people who were successfully evangelized by this, though … (if there are any).

  3. arensb Says:

    If you look real close, you can see Slartibartfast’s signature on the glacier :-)