First-Ever Black Hole Image Was Made Possible by 29-Year-Old Computer Scientist

By Li Yen, Epoch Times
April 11, 2019 Updated: April 16, 2019

The particular black hole resides in a distant galaxy 500 million trillion km away and 55 million light years from Earth. To capture an image of this distant and mysterious cosmic object—dubbed “a monster” by scientists—seemed an unattainable task. However, an international team of over 200 researchers, including one computer scientist named Katie Bouman, made the impossible possible.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – APRIL 10: (L-R) Event Horizon Telescope Director Sheperd Doeleman, National Science Foundation Director France Cordova, University of Arizona Associate Professor of Astronomy Dan Marrone, University of Waterloo Associate Professor Avery Broderick, and University of Amsterdam Professor of Theoretical High Energy Astrophysics Sera Markoff reveal the first photograph of a black hole during a news conference organized at the National Press Club April 10, 2019, in Washington, D.C.  (©Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla)

On April 10, during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the team unveiled the first-ever direct image of a supermassive black hole—as well as its rings of orange light and shadow, in the middle of a huge galaxy called Messier 87 or M87, near the Virgo galaxy cluster.

“We have taken the first picture of a black hole,” said Sheperd Doeleman, director of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, in a statement. “This is an extraordinary scientific feat accomplished by a team of more than 200 researchers.”

Speaking to The Verge, Dimitrios Psaltis, an Event Horizon Telescope project scientist at the University of Arizona, said: “This is a picture you would have seen if you had eyes as big as the Earth and were observing in radio.”

The enormous black hole captured in the image is predicted to have a mass 6.5 billion times bigger than our sun. Researchers deem this image to be the first bit of “visual evidence” that proves black holes exist.

“M87’s huge black hole mass makes it really a monster, even by supermassive black hole standards,” said Sera Markoff, an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam. “You’re basically looking at a supermassive black hole that’s almost the size of our entire Solar System.”

Despite its name, the black hole is not empty space. Instead, the black holes, presented in Einstein’s theory of general relativity, are made up of  “a great amount of matter packed into a very small area,” mostly formed from “the remnants of a large star that dies in a supernova explosion,” according to NASA.

“The result is a gravitational field so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape,” NASA states on its website.

A supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun is seen in a NASA artist’s undated concept illustration. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout/File Photo via Reuters)
This image, released Wednesday, April 10, 2019, by Event Horizon Telescope, shows a black hole. Scientists revealed the first image ever made of a black hole after assembling data gathered by a network of radio telescopes around the world. (©AP | Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/Maunakea Observatories)

The historic image was taken by scientists using a global network of eight linked telescopes set up around the world in a project known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration.

Eight telescopes, stationed over five continents, were used in April 2017 for a week-long observation of black holes, according to Event Horizon Telescope.

“Black holes have sparked imaginations for decades,” said France Córdova, National Science Foundation director. “They have exotic properties and are mysterious to us. Yet with more observations like this one they are yielding their secrets. This is why NSF exists. We enable scientists and engineers to illuminate the unknown, to reveal the subtle and complex majesty of our universe.”

This April 4, 2019, photo provided by Maunakea Observatories shows the Submillimeter Array, part of the Event Horizon Telescope network on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Scientists on Wednesday, April 10, revealed the first image ever made of a black hole using these telescopes. (©AP | Maunakea Observatories)

This groundbreaking achievement could not have been realized without an algorithm—pivotal to the project—that was developed by 29-year-old MIT computer scientist Katherine Bouman.

In 2016, Bouman, a graduate student at MIT, led the development of the algorithm that helped capture the epoch-making image; Bouman worked with a team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the MIT Haystack Observatory, according to the New York Post.

“3 years ago MIT grad student Katie Bouman led the creation of a new algorithm to produce the first-ever image of a black hole,” MIT’s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab wrote in a tweet. “Today, that image was released.”

Using the well-designed algorithm, researchers stitched together the data collected by the Event Horizon Telescope project to form the first-ever image of a black hole.

On April 10, Bouman uploaded a photo on Facebook, which shows her beaming with excitement upon seeing the first black hole image. She wrote: “Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed.”

Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed.

Katie Bouman 发布于 2019年4月10日周三

The humble yet accomplished Bouman said in a post: “no one algorithm or person made this image.” Bouman is currently an assistant professor in the Computing and Mathematical Sciences department at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

I'm so excited that we finally get to share what we have been working on for the past year! The image shown today is the…

Katie Bouman 发布于 2019年4月10日周三

“It required the amazing 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,” she wrote.

Congratulations to the researchers for the remarkable black hole breakthrough!

Watch the video:

First Black Hole Images Released

The first ever photo of a black hole was revealed this morning… 😱

UNILAD Adventure 发布于 2019年4月10日周三

Thumbnail Credit: L: Reuters, R: Facebook | Katie Bouman