Black Hole Image Makes a Star Out of Scientist

Katie Bouman's team developed needed algorithm
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 11, 2019 4:44 PM CDT
Black Hole Image Makes a Star Out of Scientist
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.   (Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/Maunakea Observatories via AP)

For the rest of the world, it was an incredible first: a stunning image of a black hole 55 million light-years from Earth. For Katie Bouman, it was all that, plus the culmination of three years of work, the realization of a goal that scientists thought to be impossible, and the event that will launch her into history. Bouman started work on the algorithm that created the image three years ago as a grad student at MIT, the BBC reports. The algorithm her team developed rendered the black hole image, which was captured by a network of eight telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope. Put another way, a series of algorithms converted telescopic data into the photo. Her Facebook post Wednesday showing Bouman at her laptop captured her excitement at the moment. "Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed," the 29-year-old wrote.

Bouman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, quickly went viral, with memes about her being shared widely on social media. Scientists and politicians were among those who publicly praised Bouman, per the Washington Post:

  • "We are unashamedly and legitimately jumping on the #BlackHolePicture bandwagon. Congratulations Dr. Bouman!"—the Royal Historical Society.
  • "I am inspired by Katie Bouman."—Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women
  • "Take your rightful seat in history, Dr. Bouman!"—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
  • "Katie Bouman proved women in STEM don't just make the impossible, possible, but make history while doing it."—Kamala Harris
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. "This is just the beginning" of what black holes can tell us, she said in an Instagram video Wednesday. (More on the incredible image here.)

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