University of MI alum helps discover first image of black hole

Katie Ramirez
April 11, 2019

Bouman has since graduated from MIT and will start as an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology this fall.

She led the project alongside a team from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the MIT Haystack Observatory and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

BRUSSELS: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) post-doctoral student Katie Bouman, who isn't an astronomer, amazingly played a vital role in taking the first-ever photograph of a black hole. Until today. That's when Event Horizon Telescope team, of which Bouman is a member, unveiled the first image of a black hole.

When humanity got its first glimpse of a black hole on Thursday, it was an unforgettable moment for 29-year-old Katie Bouman. Black holes have extremely strong gravity, meaning anything that enters its event horizon, or point of no-return is swallowed up, according to NASA.

And Dr. Bouman has received global plaudits for her contribution to science. "We would never be able to see into the center of our galaxy in visible wavelengths because there's too much stuff in between", Bouman told MIT News in 2016.

That's where Bouman's algorithm - along with several others - came in.

"It was wonderful to see that first ring, but it was even more unbelievable that we all produced the ring", said Bouman, who is joining the faculty at the California Institute of Technology this year.

They took the "sparse and noisy data" that the telescopes spit out and tried to make an image.

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Bottas said: "It's a track with very long straights and straight-line power, and speed is really important here". With those findings we come here now and see where they take us. "There are further upgrades to the auto here".

When those very same researchers were in a fix, thinking they needed a telescope the size of Earth to catch a glimpse of a black hole the size of a billion Suns, Bouman and her team of astronomer colleagues came up with a cleverer, sane alternative.

But atmospheric disturbance and the spareness of the measurements meant "an infinite number of possible images" could explain the data, Bouman said.

Bouman, an imaging scientist, led the creation of an algorithm to help capture one of the greatest mysteries of the universe. No one algorithm or person made this image, it required the fantastic talent of a team of scientists from around the globe and years of hard work to develop the instrument, data processing, imaging methods, and analysis techniques that were necessary to pull off this seemingly impossible feat.

Researchers from all over the world had combined forces to gather masses of astronomical data - enough to fill a half ton of hard drives - that they hoped to turn into the world's first image of a black hole. Throughout her talk, she breaks down complexities of programming, imaging and black hole physics in simple (and some, hilarious) metaphors.

Telescopes around the world collected high-frequency radio waves from the vicinity of Messier 87 (M87), a galaxy with a supermassive black hole 54 million light-years away.

Q: When did you know the black hole was, well, a hole?

"I've been involved with the project since 2007", he said.

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