Thursday, 25 April, 2019

How a graduate student helped capture the first black hole image

A network of eight radio observatories on six mountains and four continents observed a black hole in Messier 87 a supergiant elliptical galaxy in the constellation Virgo on and off for 10 days in April of 2017 to make the image The MIT Computer Scientist Whose Algorithm Led To The First Real Image Of A Black Hole
Cary Marshall | 12 April, 2019, 07:22

According to the Washington Post, Katie Bouman, a 29-year-old computer scientist, created the algorithm that made it possible to assemble the photo.

It was the algorithm created by a female graduate student that made the first-ever image of a black hole possible.

The black hole image was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a network of eight linked telescopes, and rendered by Dr. Bouman's algorithm.

She will start a new job in the fall as an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

She led the development of the black hole telescope algorithm under the Event Horizon Telescope project.

Katie's method of processing the raw data was instrumental in creating the first ever black hole image.

"I'm so excited that we finally get to share what we have been working on for the past year", Bouman wrote in a post on Facebook.

Feryal Ozel, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona who was the modeling and analysis lead on the project, told ABC News the gender breakdown was "pretty dismal", noting that there were about three senior women, including herself, out of about 200 total scientists on the project.

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"It has been truly an honour, and I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with you all", she wrote.

To verify what they had produced, the teams "tried to excise humans from the equation altogether", Bouman said.

This entire process was explained by Bouman in a 2016 TED talk entitled "How to take a picture of a black hole".

While much of the matter around a black hole drops into its vortex, the new image captures the enormous, circular shape of gas and dust whirling at the speed of light outside the point of no return. "The imaging algorithms we develop fill in the gaps of data we are missing in order to reconstruct a picture of the black hole". Now, scientists can prove that Einstein was correct all along. And as the world saw today, the answer was a resounding "yes".

Outside scientists suggested the achievement could be worthy of a Nobel, just like the gravitational wave discovery. "What I did was brought the culture of testing ourselves", she says.

The picture was made with equipment that detects wavelengths invisible to the human eye, so astronomers added colour to convey the ferocious heat of the gas and dust, glowing at a temperature of perhaps millions of degrees. 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.

From Antartica to Hawaii, telescopes positioned throughout the world collected light emitted from the black hole which is 6.5 billion times more massive than the sun.

Photographing a black hole is an overwhelming task. Unlike smaller black holes, which come from collapsed stars, supermassive black holes are mysterious in origin.

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