A beautiful comet to say the least, and finally a bright one visible to the northern hemisphere! It is almost expected that a few shady images would appear in the midst of the sea of photographs flooding the web right now. This one has caught some attention though.
This image appeared on a few of the typical sites, Instagram, Reddit, ect and is currently going viral. It was posted by an astrophotographer henceforth known as the author. Browsing around it seems he has a modest following with some YouTube videos and some nice images. He definitely has enough experience to know better than to completely fake a photo and pass it off as real. You have to know that there are people out there who will spot this work for what it is. In this case it did not take long for myself and others to notice some major discrepancies in this image.
First off, the colors are insane. Even over saturated images don't look like this. There is clearly something wrong here. The ion tail going from a neon violet to an neon blue is just not real. Stretching and over saturating the color could not account for this gradient and it is not seen in any other images from reputable astrophotographers being posted to the web.
More concerning is the braiding pattern visible in the dust tail. Active comets can end up having two tails. One tail is debris being blown off the comet by outgassing as it heats up near the sun from comet sublimation. The solid ices going from a solid directly to a gas. This tail is primarily made up of small dust particles and stays mostly uniform as it flows out behind the comet left behind in the path of its orbit. The other tail is ionized gasses being blown off the comet by the solar wind. These ion tails tend to have a blue color and can have some very amazing patterns in them. Swirls, corkscrews, defined lines that follow the magnetic field of the comet. They are amazing, and can be seen in photos from a lot of reputable imagers. In this case, it appears the author shared this fascination and decided to steal an image from Damian Peach and superimpose it into his image a few times. He made a major mistake there though. He superimposed these ion tail features into the dust tail - or at least hand painted them from this image as inspiration?
Image of C/2016 R2 (Panstarrs) by Damian Peach on right, and our fake image on the left: