Area scientists celebrate first picture of a black hole

12 Avril, 2019, 07:23 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Image of a black hole at the center of Messier 87 galaxy 55m light years from Earth | Courtesy Reuters

The remarkable photo, showing a halo of dust and gas 500 million trillion km from Earth, was released on Wednesday. When she left the meeting, she had a feeling that this is what she wanted to work on.

She captioned the Facebook post: "Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed".

BRUSSELS: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) post-doctoral student Katie Bouman, who isn't an astronomer, amazingly played a vital role in taking the first-ever photograph of a black hole.

The 29-year-old worked with MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the MIT Haystack Observatory and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics for the last several years, leading to the development of the algorithm.

Since the researchers had to deal with insufficient data from the supermassive black hole, Bouman developed an algorithm called CHIRP (Continuous High-resolution Reconstruction using Patch priors) which was able to put that sparse data to good use by filling in the gaps and producing the final image after extensive verification and tests.

I have an interest in how can we see things or measure things that are thought to be invisible to us. "It was quite spectacular", she told BBC Radio 5 live. Light gets bent and twisted around by gravity in a freaky funhouse effect as it gets sucked into the abyss along with superheated gas and dust, the AP reported. "We just expected a blob".

Dr Bouman became an global sensation with her name and image trending on Twitter in the hours after the revolutionary photo's release.

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

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Bouman, who has a job lined up as assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology, doesn't see her work as finished.

A global network of telescopes known as the Event Horizon Telescope project collected millions of gigabytes of data about M87 using a technique known as interferometry.

Scientists used Bouman's imagery algorithm and many others to piece together the picture.

How did her algorithm create the image?

At that time she had no real knowledge of black holes but brought with her extensive experience in computer science and electrical engineering.

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.

"You're basically looking at a supermassive black hole that's nearly the size of our entire solar system", said Sera Markoff, professor at the University of Amsterdam, "and, in fact, that's part of the reason we can see it even though it's so far away". The internet's reaction to the image was also memed.

"No one of us could've done it alone", Bouman said.

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