Meet Dr. Katie Bouman, the scientist who made the first-ever image of a black hole possible.
Dr. Katie Bouman and her team created an algorithm that sifted through data collected from 8 radio telescopes to help construct the first-ever image of a black hole. Bouman is a computational imaging expert. The 29-year-old designs algorithms to observe phenomena that are difficult or nearly impossible to measure.
She began working on the algorithm that produced the black hole image when she was an MIT grad student 3 years ago, according to MIT Computer Science and AI Laboratory.
She joined the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) team as one of 3 dozen computer scientists working to process telescope data from a supermassive black hole located in the middle of galaxy Messier 87, 55M light-years from Earth.
Katie Bouman, Nov 2016: 'Getting this first picture will come down to an international team of scientists, an Earth-sized telescope and an algorithm that puts together the final picture.'
The EHT project’s 8 telescopes are placed on 5 continents, effectively creating an Earth-sized computational telescope. But the data it collects is spare and marred by atmospheric disturbance.
In a 2016 TEDTalk, Bouman compared creating an image from the telescopes to creating an image from a rotating disco ball that only had a few of its mirrors. EHT’s computer scientists were tasked with creating algorithms to fill the holes.
Katie Bouman, TEDTalk, 2016: 'My role in helping to take the first image of a black hole is to design algorithms that find the most reasonable image that also fits the telescope measurements.'
The EHT team split its imaging experts into 4 different teams who weren’t allowed to communicate, according to The Washington Post. The teams used their respective algorithms to analyze data that was collected over 10 days in April 2017.
In the summer of 2018, the teams convened to share their images and found each team produced images with a similar ring of light around the shadow of the black hole.
Katie Bouman, to Boston Globe' It was amazing to see that first ring, but it was even more unbelievable that we all produced the ring.'
The ring surrounding the black hole is a collection of chaotic photons that didn’t get sucked into the black hole’s event horizon —the escape door out of the universe.
The image was presented publicly on April 10, 2019. The black hole has 6.5 billion times the mass of our sun, and it is the first piece of direct visual evidence of black holes. It confirms part of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity and proves that the unseeable might not be so mysterious after all.
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