For the first time ever, humans saw a photo of a black hole on Tuesday.
Fifty million lightyears stretched between our home planet and the black hole’s greedy event horizon, but with ten radio telescopes, hundreds of scientists, and one revelatory algorithm, the distance vanished as stunningly as light in the subject the researchers sought to capture.
While globally interconnected telescopes assembling images from microscopic photons is nothing to sneer at, it was the algorithm (and others built off of it) that sorted from infinite fragments the images researchers were after, making the viral image possible.
That algorithm was developed three years ago by MIT grad student Dr. Katie Bouman, who worked with 200 scientists and the Event Horizon Telescope to generate the final assembly. She soon posted a photo on Facebook of her reaction to the triumphant moment the image was first assembled.
Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed.
The formula informing the original algorithm informed many others that helped bring scientific assurance of its effectiveness to researchers.
Bouman told CNN:
“We didn’t want to just develop one algorithm. We wanted to develop many different algorithms that all have different assumptions built into them. If all of them recover the same general structure, then that builds your confidence. No matter what we did, you would have to bend over backwards crazy to get something that wasn’t this ring.”
Bouman made sure to credit the various researchers whose work helped lead to this most recent landmark of human ingenuity.
I'm so excited that we finally get to share what we have been working on for the past year! The image shown today is the…
The photo of Bauman’s first reaction has quickly gone viral.
Science can be joyful!
— Dale Shaver (@DaleRShaver) April 10, 2019
Beautiful! She looks so thrilled – and RIGHTFULLY so!
— Pantherae (@pantherdraws) April 10, 2019
This is amazing!! Congrats @MIT_CSAIL and Katie Bouman!!!
— UltraCloud ☁️ (@DevOps_Dad) April 10, 2019
— MonCan (@MonroyCantor) April 11, 2019
Another image of Bouman placed alongside a historical parallel is taking the internet by storm as well.