Black hole photo wows Earthlings, memes flood internet

April 11, 2019 - 6:08 PM
black hole
The historic image of the black hole (Photo from Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration)

Astronomers unveiled the first actual image of a black hole, a mysterious region in space with strong gravitational force, and impressed people across the world, including Filipinos.

Researchers from Event Horizon Telescope or EHT, a global network of radio telescopes, presented the photo of the black hole on April 10.

“This is an amazing accomplishment by the EHT team. Years ago, we thought we would have to build a very large space telescope to image a black hole. By getting radio telescopes around the world to work in concert like one instrument, the EHT team achieved this, decades ahead of time,” said Director Paul Hertz of the astrophysics division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Filipinos were amazed with the scientific breakthrough and expressed their commendations online.

At the same time as expressing amazement at the breakthrough, people were also quick to poke fun and make memes online.

How did they do it?

Getting a snapshot of the black hole seemed nearly impossible years before Katie Bouman joined forces with at least 200 researchers to form the EHT team, whose efforts were backed by organizations like the National Science Foundation.

According to Times magazine, Bouman graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a doctorate degree in computer science and artificial intelligence.

She got into the team when she was still a graduate student working on algorithms to see or measure things invisible to the naked eye.

“Traditionally the way you make images in radio astronomy is you actually have a human there who is kind of guiding the imaging methods in the direction they think they should go,” Bouman explained.

“And for data like this, that is so sparse, so noisy, where it’s so hard to try to find an image, that was a dangerous game to play,” she added.

Bouman and her colleagues already had the data back in June 2018 but they had to wait until April 2019 to reveal it to the public.

The algorithm she developed, along with other codes, helped devise imaging methods that eventually captured the photo of the black hole.

After this achievement, Bouman hoped to continue being part of the EHT team for her career in the future.

“It’s exciting. As long as you’re excited and you’re motivated to work on it, then you should never feel like you can’t do it,” she said.