Area scientists celebrate first picture of a black hole

Pablo Tucker
April 12, 2019

Researchers needed one the size of our planet. Scientists like MIT's Katie Bouman (above) had to develop algorithms to take 5 petabytes of data and make sense of it.

"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". She also plans to continue working on the Event Horizon team, which is adding satellites, to the network of telescopes already in use.

Others thought the black hole looked extremely similar to the image used for "Superunknown", a 1994 album by Soundgarden which just happens to include a song called "Black Hole Sun".

The Event Horizon Telescope is formed from data from telescopes located around the world in Hawaii, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Arizona, and the Antarctic.

The data captured from each telescope was stored on hard drives and then flown to three central processing centres in Boston, US, and Bonn in Germany.

Though her work developing algorithms was a crucial to the project, she sees her real contribution as bringing a way of thinking to the table. "We've been hunting this for a long time", she said of the new black hole image. "The ring came so easily".

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

The image, revealed just after 1am on Thursday (NZ time), shows a fiery doughnut-shaped object in a galaxy 53 million light-years from Earth. She quickly embraced the challenge to measure and see the impossible.

The fact that black holes do not allow light to escape makes viewing them hard. The black hole observed by the Event Horizon Telescope team appears to have a much thicker disk, but one that is somewhat more transparent to light.

Researchers with the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration presented the "groundbreaking result" during six simultaneous press conferences held around the globe.

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

The now-famous image of a black hole comes from data collected over a period of seven days.

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.

By definition, black holes are invisible, because no light escapes from them. Which is what we have the privilege of doing now.

Albert Einstein first theorised about the existence of black holes about 104 years ago. She's heading to the California Institute of Technology this year where she will be an assistant professor in the Department of Computing and Mathematical Sciences.

We have our fingers crossed waiting for the Event Horizon team to unveil the news!

KUALA LUMPUR, April 11 ― Kevin Koay Jun Yi from Penang has the distinction of being among the first team of global scientists to have captured the first image of a black hole ― an astronomical achievement that is making waves worldwide since its release yesterday.

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