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.
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration
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.
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.
The photo of Bauman's first reaction has quickly gone viral.
@MIT_CSAIL @KHayhoe @dfbarajas Science can be joyful!— Dale Shaver (@Dale Shaver)1554921412.0
@MIT_CSAIL @dfbarajas Beautiful! She looks so thrilled - and RIGHTFULLY so!— Pantherae (@Pantherae)1554931040.0
@MIT_CSAIL @dfbarajas This is amazing!! Congrats @MIT_CSAIL and Katie Bouman!!!— UltraCloud ☁️ (@UltraCloud ☁️)1554918228.0
@MIT_CSAIL @dfbarajas This is phenomenal. I wish there was more coverage that it was a young Woman’s research that… https://t.co/I9OBs7ryVn— MonCan (@MonCan)1554971983.0
Another image of Bouman placed alongside a historical parallel is taking the internet by storm as well.
Bouman is being compared to Margaret Hamilton—whose coding is partially credited with achieving the moon landing.
People can't stop sharing an image of Hamilton standing next to stacks of the handwritten coding placed side-by-side with one of Bouman next to stacks of hard drives forming the roughly 5 million gigabytes used to achieve the black hole images.
Left: MIT computer scientist Katie Bouman w/stacks of hard drives of black hole image data. Right: MIT computer s… https://t.co/Q67XE66mq7— MIT CSAIL (@MIT CSAIL)1554911887.0
The image led people to share some of the great women of science whose achievements also paved the way for Hamilton and, now, Bouman.
Women have been at the forefront of humanity’s exploration of the cosmos, writing the codes that enabled us to pict… https://t.co/bKqwrSD8ta— Robert Falconer (@Robert Falconer)1554937463.0
@MIT_CSAIL @floragraham In the footsteps of Annie Cannon, one of the first (human) computers. https://t.co/brFJiMIDw3— Grady Booch (@Grady Booch)1554930123.0
@Grady_Booch @MIT_CSAIL @floragraham Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, was the first person to write an alg… https://t.co/FcgosJHprP— Lupine Arts (@Lupine Arts)1554969321.0
Katherine Johnson & Margaret Hamilton & Nancy Grace Roman & Sally Ride & Mae Jemison & Peggy Whitson & Kate Bouman.… https://t.co/uek9ntDuEz— On Hiatus (@On Hiatus)1554950670.0
Girls don't just run the world, they're revealing the universe.