Meet Katie Bouman, woman behind first black hole photo


Bouman created the algorithm when she was a graduate student at the computer science and artificial intelligence center of MIT.

A 29-year-old computer scientist has earned plaudits worldwide for helping develop the algorithm that created the first-ever image of a black hole.

"The image shown today is the combination of images produced by multiple methods".

Scientists released the first-ever image made of a black hole, revealing a fiery doughnut-shaped object in a galaxy 53 million light-years from Earth, on Wednesday, April 10.

According to the Event Horizon Telescope website, "This long-sought image provides the strongest evidence to date for the existence of supermassive black holes and opens a new window onto the study of black holes, their event horizons, and gravity".

Linked by a bunch of super-accurate atomic clocks, researchers manning each of the EHT's eight (black hole-observing) telescopes freeze light by collecting thousands of terabytes of data of space images. "Even though we had worked on this for years, I don't think any of us expected we would get a ring that easily", she says.

Dr Bouman and her team developed these algorithms that converted telescopic data into photos (like this one).

The data from the telescopes around the world was gathered two years ago, but it took years to complete the processing of the data. "This is the equivalent of being able to read the date on a quarter in Los Angeles, standing here in Washingon D.C.", said Shep Doeleman, a Harvard University senior research fellow and director of the Event Horizon Telescope project.

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The black hole in the constellation Virgo is seen as a dark shadow inside that circle, an enormous opening that is the size of our solar system and about 6 billion times the mass of the sun. It's thanks to her and a huge team of other scientist and engineers that we can really begin to understand the incredible phenomena of black holes.

"It still amazes me that although I began this project with no background in astrophysics, what we have achieved in this unique collaboration could result in the very first images of a black hole", she said.

At the time I hardly even knew what a black hole was.

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

Event Horizon has ambitious plans to expand, adding new telescopes to the network that will boost its power, and hopefully, one day give it the ability to create videos of black holes in addition to the still images.

Without her contribution, scientists were unable to fill in the gaps of data necessary to capture the image from a galaxy 55 million light years away.

Not only is she a millennial STEM heroine, but she's also the brilliant scientist who, with the help of her team, wrote the algorithm and did what many thought was an impossible feat: photographing a black hole.

"BBC News, Could Katie get a mention in the article itself and not just a credit on the photo?" wrote one user.