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No, this isn’t the northern lights, but long exposure photo of fluorescent bulb

A photo of a wispy white pattern against a starlit sky has been doing the rounds on Facebook in South Africa.

The captions to the photo claim it shows the aurora borealis in Finland, and is called “The Hem of His Garment”.

The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, are part of the irregular, luminous phenomenon in Earth’s upper atmosphere visible in high latitudes of both hemispheres. They are more commonly observed by people in the northern hemisphere. (In the southern hemisphere, they are called aurora australis or southern lights.)

But does this photo show the aurora borealis? We investigated.

Aurora_False

‘Trick’ photography, not northern lights

A TinEye reverse image search led us to what appeared to be the original photo, posted on a Russian webforum in 2010.

Several other photos were posted in the same thread, showing wispy white lights against a night sky. 

But the author of the post wrote – in Russian – that they had used a “fluorescent lamp” and taken the photos with a long exposure. They do not  mention the aurora borealis. The original post reads: “Лампа дневного света может светиться не только от прямого подведения электричества, но и от мощного электромагнитного поля, находящегося рядом с лампой. Что мы решили и проверить, ну и мой любимый стиль фотографии: Длинная выдержка.” 

Google translates this to: “A fluorescent lamp can glow not only from a direct supply of electricity, but also from a powerful electromagnetic field located next to the lamp.  What we decided and tested, well, my favourite style of photography: Long exposure.”

Northern lights look different from photo

Fact-checking organisation Check Your Fact also investigated this claim and interviewed Virgil Reglioni, a French photographer specialising in photos of the northern lights. He said: “I am pretty sure this picture is not an aurora borealis for several reasons. This spectrum of colour does not fit with auroral activity, also cameras are able to capture way more frequencies of lights so more colours.”

Photos of the northern lights on Getty Images and Shutterstock are quite different from the Facebook post and show green, blue or purple colours against dark blue skies, not white wisps.

We could also find no credible evidence that the northern lights viewed from a specific place in Finland are known as “the hem of his garment”. 

This photo does not show the northern lights.

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

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