Meet Katie Bouman, the STEM hero behind today’s black hole photo

The MIT Computer Scientist Whose Algorithm Led To The First Real Image Of A Black Hole

Area scientists celebrate first picture of a black hole

When humanity got its first glimpse of a black hole on Thursday, it was an unforgettable moment for 29-year-old Katie Bouman.

But when the mind-bending breakthrough finally came nearly a year ago, the discovery had to stay a secret.

So, after the stunning image was revealed to the world Wednesday, Bouman's excitement spilled out at what seemed the speed of light.

Bouman, 29, a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, had been working on such an algorithm for nearly six years, since she was a graduate student at MIT.

"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".

Bouman is a postdoctoral fellow working with the Event Horizon Telescope team that released the revolutionary photograph. "We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole", announced Sheperd Doeleman of Harvard, leader of the project. Its "event horizon" - the precipice, or point of no return where light and matter get sucked inexorably into the hole - is as big as our entire solar system.

"Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed", Dr. Bouman wrote in the caption to her Facebook post. No one algorithm or person made this image, it required the awesome talent of a team of scientists from around the globe and years of hard work to develop the instrument, data processing, imaging methods, and analysis techniques that were necessary to pull off this seemingly impossible feat. MIT's Haystack Observatory in Westford was one of the sites where the data was assembled, The Boston Globe reports.

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According to Nasa, a black hole "is an extremely dense object from which no light can escape". The black hole is located 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.

Q: When did you know the black hole was, well, a hole? In fact, for many, the first image of the black hole is such a let down especially in 2019's standards.

The data from the telescopes around the world was gathered two years ago, but it took years to complete the processing of the data.

The scientists didn't talk to other teams about the details of their work as they analyzed their data. In an interview with CNN, she said, "No one of us could've done it alone".

She will start a new job in the fall as an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). And while that doesn't make her any more deserving of applause - Bouman emphasizes that the project was "a team effort" - it does make her a potential role model for young girls who lack examples compared to their male peers.

"We didn't want to accidentally see a ring just because we wanted to see a ring", she said. "But we kept getting the ring". And it's thanks, in large part, to the algorithms created by Katie Bouman.

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