To say that it’s a big day for astronomy is quite an understatement. For the first time ever, a black hole has been documented and imaged through a photo. It’s a history-making feat—or shall we say,”her-story-making”?
The person behind the first black hole image is Katie Bouman, a 29-year-old computer scientist from California.
Bouman is the lead in developing a computer program that has made the breakthrough image come to life.
What does today's black hole image news mean? Our @ChandraXRay Observatory team puts it into perspective and shares just what a difficult feat it was for @NSF and @EHTelescope to obtain the new black hole image. Read more about #EHTBlackHole: https://t.co/s9xoxt8l3S pic.twitter.com/TQD8HSdbGG
— NASA (@NASA) April 10, 2019
The photo, unveiled via NASA’s social media, shows a halo of dust and gas 500 million trillion kilometers away from Earth. The black hole—basically a dead star—comes from the galaxy Messier 87, which is the largest and most massive galaxy within our local supercluster of galaxies.
Only matter and light emitted around these black holes are detectable. Seeing what’s within it, however, is an endeavor previously thought to be impossible.
In a Facebook post, Bouman is seen bracing herself while the image undergoes processing on her laptop. “Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed,” she writes.
Bouman has been making the algorithm as a graduate student at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) three years ago. She’s at the helm of that project, with the assistance of a team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the MIT Haystack Observatory.
That same algorithm is immediately put to good use in rendering the black hole image, captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) through multiple telescopes in locations ranging from Antarctica to Chile.
Left: MIT computer scientist Katie Bouman w/stacks of hard drives of black hole image data.
Right: MIT computer scientist Margaret Hamilton w/the code she wrote that helped put a man on the moon.
— MIT CSAIL (@MIT_CSAIL) April 10, 2019
Though groundbreaking, the now assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology says there’s work left to be done.
— MIT CSAIL (@MIT_CSAIL) April 11, 2019
“This is just the beginning in what black holes can tell us about our laws in physics but already, we’ve learned so much,” she says in an interview video via MIT CSAIL. “We didn’t know, even if we had predicted that if you see a black hole you would see this ring of light, so seeing that it exists is huge.”
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