Trying to capture an image of a black hole is like trying to take a picture of an orange sitting on the surface of the moon from Earth—with your smartphone. That is what Dr. Katie Bouman said two years ago during her TED talk called How to take a picture of a black hole.
Bouman is 29 years old now. She received her doctoral degree in computer science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She later became a postdoctoral researcher with the international Event Horizon Telescope, or EHT, project. The project's scientists produced a black hole image from data collected from a series of telescopes around the world. Together, they formed an Earth-sized "virtual" telescope—one powerful enough to do what had once seemed impossible.
This week, the team of scientists, led by Sheperd S. Doeleman of Harvard University, released to the public the first-ever image of a black hole. Soon after, another image was spreading over social media and the news. It showed a smiling Bouman with the black hole image on her computer screen. She wrote on Facebook: “Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed.”
Bouman led a team that helped create an algorithm, or a set of computer processes that turned the huge amount of telescopic data into one image. After the press event on Wednesday, Bouman spoke with members of the media. She said she is looking forward to developing more algorithms and methods that will help lead to an even better, sharper image of a black hole. Bouman will begin her teaching career at the California Institute of Technology later this year.