Meet the Genius Behind the First Black Hole Image

Katie Ramirez
April 12, 2019

While only six observatories are now signed up to the project, more are expected to join in months to come, according to MIT.

But the team was up to the task.

"The image shown today is the combination of images produced by multiple methods". It was apparently set across manually because there was too much of it to send over the internet.

Naturally, this momentous occasion propelled Bouman to well-deserved fame, and social media platforms are still ringing with praise for her achievement. The image of the black hole presented on Wednesday was not from any one method, but all the images from different algorithms that were blurred together. "The ring came so easily". And while that doesn't make her any more deserving of applause - Bouman emphasizes that the project was "a team effort" - it does make her a potential role model for young girls who lack examples compared to their male peers. Her background was in computer science and electrical engineering, and she got involved in the project while pursuing a PhD in computer vision. With enthusiasm, she describes all the other unseeable things that might be seen with the right combination of hardware and software. Its "event horizon" - the precipice, or point of no return where light and matter get sucked inexorably into the hole - is as big as our entire solar system.

"The gravitational pull of a black hole is so strong nothing can escape, nothing can ever get out of it".

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Not only is huge, its really really far away about 500 million trillion kilometers away. "This is the equivalent of being able to read the date on a quarter in Los Angeles, standing here in Washington D.C.", said Shep Doeleman, a Harvard University senior research fellow and director of the Event Horizon Telescope project.

When she joined the team six years ago, Bouman didn't know a thing about black holes. The first ever image of a black hole was widely shared this week, thanks to the work of The National Science Foundation and Dr. Katie Bouman, the scientist who developed the algorithm that made the image possible.

For the rest of the world, it was an incredible first: a stunning image of a black hole 55 million light-years from Earth. Bouman has already worked on looking around corners by analyzing tiny shadows and determining the material properties of objects in videos by measuring tiny motions that are invisible to the naked eye. There has been incredibly strong evidence that black holes exist for a long time, but this still isn't the same as directly observing the thing itself. Which is what we have the privilege of doing now.

The image of M87 will occupy scientists for weeks, months and even years to come as they analyze it from every perspective. The image even brings the opportunity to rethink established knowledge like Einstein's theory of general relativity.

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