Black hole image released by scientists in world first

James Marshall
April 12, 2019

The black hole, which is highlighted by radiating hot gas orbiting around it, is about 55 million light years from Earth.

The American computer scientist led development of a programme that made the awesome image possible.

Bouman is a 2007 graduate of West Lafayette High School. The internet's reaction to the image was also memed. She had been working on the algorithm for nearly six years, beginning when she was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Until now black holes have only been seen indirectly through their impact on nearby galaxies and stars, and it was thought they would be impossible to ever observe.

"Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed", she wrote in the caption to the Facebook post.

Bouman joined the Event Horizon Telescope project team six years ago.

"Bouman prepared a large database of synthetic astronomical images and the measurements they would yield at different telescopes, given random fluctuations in atmospheric noise, thermal noise from the telescopes themselves, and other types of noise".

Users took to Twitter to appreciate and some even had requests to make #blackhole a trending topic on Twitter. For the past few years, Bouman directed the verification of images and selection of imaging parameters. But actually making an image?

We get this partial information. But a prediction made by Albert Einstein in his theory of general relativity stated that under certain circumstances, an outline of a black hole and its light-swallowing event horizon could be seen, according to representatives of the Haystack Observatory at MIT, which houses one of the EHT telescopes. This incredible feat required global collaboration to turn the Earth into one giant telescope and image an object thousands of trillions of kilometres away. And when the German physicist Karl Schwarzschild wrote to him that year to raise the possibility of black holes and calculating the radius of their event horizons, Einstein initially dismissed black holes as a mathematical anomalies. "We are trying to change that", she said.

"One of the insights Katie brought to our imaging group is that there are natural images", Fish said. They think the event horizon measures just under 25 billion miles (40 billion km) across, about three times the size of Pluto's orbit around the sun.

For example, there are areas that are smoother and areas that have sharp boundaries. "Once you cross it, you will never be able to get out and you will never be able to communicate", said astronomer Avi Loeb, who is director of the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard but was not involved in the discovery.

Dr Bouman has been praised widely on social media, with the likes of Democratic Senator Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez weighing in, with this female scientist and her team adding their names to the list of the most unforgettable discoveries.

"History books will be divided into the time before the image and after the image", said Michael Kramer from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. "You're an inspiration to so many people".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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