Katie Bouman’s Black Hole Image Work: Not The Only Woman In Science


Just three years ago as a graduate researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dr Katie Bouman led the development of the algorithm that would lead to the production of the first-ever image of a black hole.

Q: What was the algorithm's role for this image, stitching together data from telescopes across the planet? The glowing ring is, in fact, called an event horizon, the point beyond which not even light can escape the pull of a black hole.

Katie Bouman, MIT computer scientist. But I tagged along to this meeting [where Shep Doeleman, the Harvard University astronomer who directs the Event Horizon Telescope project, was discussing black holes].

Now we know that Bouman's work was definitely up to the task.

She posted on Facebook, "No one algorithm or person made this image, it required the awesome talent of a team of scientists from around the globe and years of hard work..."

If you're sharing something about the woman who created the image of the first black hole. But in the midst of making jokes about how that photo kinda sorta looks the eye of Sauron and wondering how this newfound information could impact Albert Einstein's theories of gravity, social media focused on making sure one of the women behind the project gets credit for her contributions.

There's a young woman to thank for the first image of a black hole. "What I did was brought the culture of testing ourselves", she says.

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Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed. Until today. That's when Event Horizon Telescope team, of which Bouman is a member, unveiled the first image of a black hole.

Bouman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but told CNN, "No one of us could've done it alone". "One key is showing that when you go into fields like computer science and engineering, it's not just sitting in a lab putting together a circuit or typing on your computer".

While only six observatories are now signed up to the project, more are expected to join in months to come, according to MIT. She quickly embraced the challenge to measure and see the impossible.

In the above time-lapse video from the European Southern Observatory taken over 20 years, the elliptical orbit of the star closest to Sagittarius A*, the Supermassive Black Hole (SMBH) that sits in the center of our galaxy, can been seen accelerating to a significant fraction of the speed of light at the perigee of its orbit.

One Twitter user wrote: "Lmao this is ridiculously true".

The effort to capture the image, using telescopes in locations ranging from Antarctica to Chile, involved a team of more than 200 scientists.

She has been working on the project while a post-doctoral fellow at MIT and will soon start a job as an assistant professor at Caltech.