July 19, 2022

The first dazzling images from the James Webb Space Telescope were shared July 12 and provided a window into the universe’s distant past. But a video uploaded to Facebook the same day questions the veracity of the photos and the telescope’s existence.

The video runs for about 13 minutes and includes a man commenting over clips from a White House briefing on the telescope and a television newscast detailing the telescope’s development.


At the video’s beginning, the man says he is “about to expose this fakery they got for the masses,” referring to the James Webb Space Telescope.

“I can’t believe they keep passing off this fakery as real,” he says. “But, guess what? In the new world order, that’s what they’re going to be able to do. Pass off all these dumb s— on the masses.”

The man makes several outlandish claims about how there’s “nothing sensible” to the James Webb Space Telescope.

He says the telescope can’t be real because it uses mirrors and is nothing like a traditional telescope that someone can look through. He also claims it’s impossible for the telescope to transmit images back to Earth because there’s “nothing carrying internet in space.”

The pictures the telescope took can’t be real because galaxies don’t exist and the Earth is “covered by a dome” and in a trapped environment, the man says.

None of his claims have any basis in fact or reality.

The 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.)

The development and construction of the James Webb Space Telescope has been well documented over the years.

The James Webb Space Telescope was first proposed in 1996 as a way to explore our cosmic history and the universe’s origins by viewing galaxies billions of miles from Earth, according to NASA. The James Webb Space Telescope is considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which launched April 24, 1990.

Whereas the Hubble telescope orbits 340 miles above the Earth and captures images using visible and ultraviolet light, the James Webb telescope scans space using infrared light and is positioned about 1 million miles from Earth.

There are two types of optical telescopes — refracting and reflecting. Refracting telescopes focus light through a lens to magnify a faraway image — similar to how eyeglasses focus light to make blurry images clear. Reflecting telescopes concentrate light by bouncing it off of a mirror to magnify an image.

Although the James Webb telescope doesn’t look like traditional tube-shaped models, it is still considered a reflecting telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope uses a 19.7-foot-tall primary mirror to collect light. That light is bounced to a smaller secondary mirror, which then redirects it onto the telescope’s instruments, including a camera that records an image.

Unlike what the Facebook video implies, broadcasting a signal through space is not impossible and has happened since the radio was invented in the 1890s. Radio and television signals emanating from Earth have even traveled outside our solar system.

The James Webb Space Telescope is equipped with a high-frequency radio transmitter that can send information it has gathered, including images, toward Earth. That information is then collected by large radio antennas positioned around the world as part of the NASA Deep Space Network, which then forwards it to the Webb Science and Operation Center in Baltimore.

The video’s claim that galaxies don’t exist is also unfounded.

The concept of the night sky being filled with stars can be traced back to ancient times. The Greek philosopher Democritus theorized in the fifth century B.C. that a bright band of light that could be seen in the night sky was a collection of stars. He was describing part of the Milky Way galaxy.

For a long time, people thought the Milky Way was the universe’s only galaxy. That changed in 1923, when Edwin Hubble was observing what was then known as the Andromeda Nebula at the Mount Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles County. Hubble was looking at a dim cluster of stars and found one considered a cepheid variable, which allows astronomers to measure distance based on that star’s changing brightness.

Using that star, Hubble calculated that the cluster wasn’t a nearby nebula within the Milky Way; it was an entirely separate galaxy. He looked at other recorded nebulae and concluded there were millions of other galaxies in the universe.

The video’s description of the Earth being covered in a dome is connected to the long-debunked flat-Earth theory, which holds that the Earth is a flat disk contained underneath a dome with the sun, moon and stars. There is plenty of evidence to disprove the theory, including the multiple images of Earth that have been taken from space over the years.

Most ancient Greeks believed the Earth was round, and astronomers were able to prove it by placing two identical sticks at different locations and comparing their shadows at the same time of day. One stick had no shadow while the other stick, placed about 500 miles north, did have a shadow. If the Earth were flat, the sticks would both have had either the same shadow or no shadow at all.

Our ruling

A video shared to Facebook claims the James Webb Space Telescope and the images it has taken are fake.

The video makes wild claims about why the telescope is fake, offering no evidence and using debunked theories.

The space telescope has been in the works for more than 20 years, and its development, construction and launch into space have been well documented. There is also plenty of evidence proving that broadcasting a signal through space is possible and that the Earth is round.

We rate this Pants on Fire!

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.

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Andy Nguyen is a contributor to PolitiFact based in Los Angeles. He also writes for Patch covering local and national news. Nguyen previously wrote for…
Andy Nguyen

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