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Question: Is The Aurora In The Snow Leopard Default Wallpaper Real?

Curiosity has set in... the aurora in Leopard was beautiful and I always assumed it was a real photograph. The Snow Leopard version seems to look a little different (maybe my imagination) which raises the question is it a real photo or a Photoshop creation and if real what is it called?

Macbook Pro Hi-Res (2008) + iBook G3 + iPod vid 60 GB + iPod 160GB + iPhone 3GS, Mac OS X (10.5.8), MBP 2.5GHz 4GB RAM + G3 500 MHz 384 MB RAM

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Jan 6, 2011 5:04 PM in response to arthur In response to arthur

I am sorry you do not like calling the decorative background picture on the desktop 'wallpaper' You do not indicate what you prefer it being called. I have always had Macs (I go back to the bad old days of OS8 and 9). As I am an artist most of my friends also have Macs. The only word I have ever heard it called is wallpaper although Apple seems to often refer to it as "screen background" which seems particularly unimaginative but practical. I did find the use of the word "wallpaper" in a download of wallpapers from the Apple site. You can find it here:


And googling "Wallpaper for Mac" brings up tens of thousands of results:


So it appears that wallpaper is a commonly used name for the background image on the Mac as it is on Windows and on Linux as well. It doesn't really concern me who used the term first as it has become a generic term these days and all three major desktop platforms have been guilty of being "inspired" by each other from time to time and so they should. Convergence of design and concepts is normal for every kind of device we buy. Just think of the confusion that we would face if every refrigerator manufacturer wanted to have their own special name for the icebox, or every car manufacturer wanted the steering wheel to be known by their own term for it. Same for such things that are common to computers such as desktop, window, folder, wallpaper, cursor, mouse, etc. Apple invented some of the names and other people invented the other names.

This is all irrelevant however to the question as to whether or not the Leopard and Snow Leopard background aurora images are real photographs or fakes and if real, what is the name of the source nebula.

Jan 6, 2011 5:04 PM

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Jan 7, 2011 7:22 AM in response to Tuttle In response to Tuttle

I didn't mention iOS because we were talking about the Mac desktop but the iPhone and iPad background images are only referred to by Apple in all of its help documents, User Manual, and on the devices in Settings as being Wallpaper. It is fascinating, just like the word google going into the dictionary as a verb and being used by people who are actually using Bing because it is now a generic word, but...

...but again, I am actually interested in the origin of the aurora background image no matter what we call it. I was surprised that there is no answer to this on the web and I found only a couple of instances of people asking the question. Am I unusually curious? I would have thought that other people would have wondered the same thing about something we all look at for several hours every day. Is it real or is it fake, and if real, what is it called and where is it from. Surely someone knows.

Jan 7, 2011 7:22 AM

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Jan 7, 2011 7:50 AM in response to Tuttle In response to Tuttle

An interesting thought but I just had a good look at the Welcome movie and I didn't spot any nebulae which looked the same. It did occur to me as I was watching it that while the individual components are moving and mixed up, they can still originate from various individual real astronomical images mashed together and animated.

The Aurora photo on Leopard looks very real, but it is the Snow Leopard default which caused me to wonder if it (and potentially both) are fake. Either way they are very beautiful and if real, I would love to know whether it is a Hubble shot, and what is it called.

Jan 7, 2011 7:50 AM

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Jan 7, 2011 8:53 AM in response to jsd2 In response to jsd2

Good spotting, star duplications are easy to see in the Snow Leopard Aurora and confirms my feeling that it is fake, but I switched back to the Leopard default aurora and can find no star duplications there which supports the general feeling that this one might be a real photograph.

Jan 7, 2011 8:53 AM

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Jan 7, 2011 11:42 AM in response to artistjoh In response to artistjoh

Afraid not - the Leopard aurora may not contain a direct duplication of a star pattern but there is a near mirror-image of one.

Look at the bottom-left and the bottom-right of the Leopard Aurora pic:

Flipping and slightly rotating the second pattern gives:

Both aurora pics are still pretty, though... 😉

Jan 7, 2011 11:42 AM

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Jan 7, 2011 12:19 PM in response to jsd2 In response to jsd2

Ahh, good spotting again, although I had already seen a bent line of stars that seems to be rotated and distorted slightly then repeated in the upper left area. Your forensics would pass the test in any police department I am sure, although I am clinging to the (fading) hope that the actual nebulosity is real but enhanced with extra stars. I do notice that in the flipped and rotated image it is only the brighter stars which are consistent and the fainter stars do vary Which could be either from two separate duplications overlaid or could be a real image with an enhancement.

There is an example from the background images collection of a hemisphere of the earth which seems to be real with obviously fake stars in what would in reality be a black sky with no stars visible.

Having had the fakery of this image now exposed I must admit that I am disappointed. With so much in the way of astronomical images of extraordinary beauty in existence it would have been nice to have the real thing, although I can also imagine Jony Ives giving exact instructions to the art department as to the precise shades of black and mauve he wanted and nothing in nature matching his requirements exactly 🙂

Thank you for your sharp eye and experimentation to identify the facts.

Jan 7, 2011 12:19 PM

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Jan 7, 2011 12:22 PM in response to Jeffrey Jones2 In response to Jeffrey Jones2

If a nebula is far away and very dim then any stars in a photograph would not reveal any recognizable constellations. That is true of most astronomical photographs. It is also confused by the fact that it is now established that at least some if not all of the stars are Photoshop fakes.

Jan 7, 2011 12:22 PM

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Jan 7, 2011 10:39 PM in response to Jeffrey Jones2 In response to Jeffrey Jones2

It is certainly named "Aurora" but it doesn't look like an aurora to me and to my eye appears more typical of interstellar gas or dust clouds with one or more stars behind it providing the "ray" appearance. I have never seen either the southern or northern lights in person but photographs I have seen tend to look more like a curtain effect and tend more toward greenish and yellowish glow. I have not seen any photographs with a ray effect from a central point. Of course if the image is a total fabrication then any inconsistencies with natural phenomena are down to artistic license, although I suspect that at its core it is based on a real photograph as the starting point.

Jan 7, 2011 10:39 PM

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Question: Is The Aurora In The Snow Leopard Default Wallpaper Real?