There’s no doubt you’ve seen the first photo of a black hole, and now it’s time to meet the woman behind that groundbreaking snapshot.
Katie Bouman is a grad student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and she invented the algorithm that allowed the image of the elusive black hole to be captured. The black hole resides in the middle of galaxy M87, roughly 55 million light years away.
It’s easy to see the excitement on Bouman’s face as she shared her reaction with the world on Facebook.
Bouman developed the algorithm back in 2016 and explained how difficult capturing the image would be: “To image something this small means that we would need a telescope with a 10,000-kilometer diameter, which is not practical, because the diameter of the Earth is not even 13,000 kilometers.”
You read that right: you’d need a telescope almost as big as the Earth to get the photo.
Instead, a network of 8 telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope project worked together to create one huge telescope to collect data on the black hole. Bouman’s algorithm uses the data collected from the 8 telescopes to help fill in the image gaps because there is still missing data about the black hole.
Bouman said, “We could’ve just gotten a blob. Seeing that ring, and seeing a ring that has a size that is consistent with other measurements that had been done completely differently, I think seeing that ring of light and being able to see that ring exists is huge.”
Here’s a video of Bouman explaining the process.
Of course, Katie Bouman is the latest in a long line of women to make a major impact on science. Did you know that actress Hedy Lamarr, who lit up the silver screen in the 1930s and 1940s and was once called “the most beautiful woman in the world” was also a mathematician and an inventor?
Lamarr invented frequency hopping spread spectrum during World War II so radio transmissions could not be jammed up by enemies and torpedoes could be maneuvered by remote control. Lamarr didn’t get the credit she deserved for her patent until many years later, and her invention is now used in both Bluetooth and WiFi, so we all owe her a big debt of gratitude.
Another pioneering woman in the science field is Margaret Hamilton, who led the development of the flight software for NASA’s Apollo moon missions. Because of her incredible work, President Obama awarded Hamilton the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
Amazing work ladies! And congratulations to Katie Bouman on her incredible achievement. I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing about her for a long time…