Fact Check: Patent Application Image Is NOT For 'Sun Simulator' But Autonomously Assembled Space Telescope

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Patent Application Image Is NOT For 'Sun Simulator' But Autonomously Assembled Space Telescope Space 'Scope

Does a diagram from a patent application for a purported "sun simulator" prove that NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is also a sun simulator because of their similarities? No, that's not true: The diagram included in a 2003 patent application is for an "autonomously assembled space telescope" and does not depict a "sun simulator." The James Webb Space Telescope, which at the time was still in development, was mentioned three times in the patent application, comparing and contrasting its design from the Autonomously Assembled Space Telescope proposed in the patent.

The claim appeared in a video (archived here) on TikTok by @erekowhite on May 13, 2024. The post was captioned:

SUN FLARES & SUN STORMS ARE NOT REAL‼️ this studies are from @GejiSama who come up with discussions together. Hoping to spread awareness & awakening. #foryou #fyp #fypシ #foryoupage #earth #geocentric #middleeast #muslim #revertmuslim #arabtiktok #science #news #tiktok #tiktoknews #viral #trends #solarstorm #solarflare

This is what a screenshot from a key moment in the post looked like on TikTok at the time of writing:


(Source: TikTok screenshot taken on Thu May 23 14:40:34 2024 UTC)

This 4:33-minute-long video contains a variety of conspiracy claims -- that the sun storms that recently caused the northern lights to be widely visible were caused by a fake plasma sun released by China, and that rain, clouds, going to space and planets are all fake. This fact check will focus on one claim set forth here that is the foundation of a fake sun assertion.

The screenshot above was taken from about 2:58 minutes into the video. The top photo in the screenshot shows an image from an October 28, 2003, patent application, US20050088734A1, and the lower photo shows the Webb Telescope at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in 2017. The narrator says:

You have probably seen the photos like this, right? This is the patent for a sun simulator. This is the reflection coming off of the sun coming from a high altitude weather balloon. It looks so similar, yeah? Similar to James Webb Telescope. This telescope is actually a sun simulator, again NASA doesn't need telescopes because they edit CGI photos. This fake sun is dangerous. This claims that it is five times hotter than our real sun, achieving a temperature of 158 million degrees Farenheit just for 17 minutes. All of this mimics the real sun, pretending to produce clean energy. This is their dream -- to create a nuclear fusion.

The narrator claims this is a patent for a sun simulator. A reverse image search with Google Lens returns a link indexed in the Google Patents database to the patent application US20050088734A1 filed by Boeing Co. on October 28, 2003 (pictured below). The Image is the first in a slideshow of 26. The abstract describes this autonomously assembled space telescope:

A method for autonomously assembling a segmented filled aperture telescope ('AAST') in space using modular components that are launched into orbit using multiple launches. In one embodiment, a plurality of interlocking modular mirror backing structure segments, with or without an edge truss, are introduced to a satellite. To this are coupled a plurality of modular segmented optics to form a primary concave mirror. In another embodiment, the mirror backing structure and modular optics segments are formed as a single modular unit, with a plurality of these units coupled together to form the primary concave mirror. The modular concept allows primary mirrors of virtually limitless size to be formed in space with or without using astronauts.


(Source: patents.google.com screenshot taken on Thu May 23 17:17:03 2024 UTC)

The high-resolution copy of the lower photo can be found on the stock image website Alamy.com. It is captioned:

In this photo, released on April 25, 2017, NASA technicians lift the James Webb Space Telescope using a crane and moved it inside a clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Once launched into space, the Webb telescope's 18-segmented gold mirror is specially designed to capture infrared light from the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, and will help the telescope peer inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today. The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency. NASA Photo by Desiree Stover/UPI

The narrator melds one claim to another seamlessly. After saying this diagram shows a sun simulator, and that telescopes are not needed because NASA just does CGI, she says:

This fake sun is dangerous. This claims that it is five times hotter than our real sun, achieving a temperature of 158 million degrees Farenheit just for 17 minutes.

The statistics she cites for the "fake sun" are derived from reporting on China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor, nicknamed the "artificial sun," which is based in Hefei, China -- not outer space. There has been some discrepancy in reporting what temperature was held for 17 minutes -- 126 million or 158 million degrees Fahrenheit. While this figure is not the focus of the fact check, it establishes that both figures are associated with reporting about the EAST reactor's record and have nothing to do with the James Webb Space Telescope.

Chinese state media Xinhua reported on December 31, 2021, that the "artificial sun" had set a new world record. They quoted a Gong Xianzu, a researcher at the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences:

We achieved a plasma temperature of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds in an experiment in the first half of 2021. This time, steady-state plasma operation was sustained for 1,056 seconds at a temperature close to 70 million degrees Celsius [158 million degrees Fahrenheit], laying a solid scientific and experimental foundation toward the running of a fusion reactor

Google searches show that inconsistent reporting cited either the 126 million or 158 million degree figure when referring to the same 70 million degrees Celsius 17-minute record.

At 1:38 minutes into the video on TikTok (below left) a video image of a sun with lens flares is misrepresented as being two suns. At 0:59 seconds in (below center) the narrator says that China released an artificial sun. This is video footage of the Chang Zeng 7A rocket that was launched December 23, 2021, from the Wenchang launch site in China -- not an artificial sun. Lead Stories debunked this claim, which appeared on Instagram (pictured below right), on January 10, 2022.


(Source: Lead Stories composite image with TikTok and Instagram screenshots taken on Thu May 23 23:01:43 2024 UTC)

Additional fact checks on solar flares and NASA can be found here and here.

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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