For the first time in the history of humanity, people around the world Wednesday were able to see an image of a black hole 50 million light-years away.
The revolutionary image went viral in an instant, as did a photo of Katie Bouman, the 29-year-old who is partly responsible for making the astronomical image happen.
In the photo of Bouman, a member of the Event Horizon Telescope project, she braces herself as she loads the groundbreaking image onto her computer.
“Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed,” she wrote in the caption posted to Facebook.
Three years ago, while a postdoctoral student at MIT, the computer scientist created an algorithm that would eventually lead to the creation of the world’s first image of a black hole in space. It was one of several imaging algorithms that pieced together data on the black hole collected from radio telescopes around the world.
The result: An otherworldly, albeit blurry, image of an amber-colored ring, strikingly similar to a mythical dragon’s eye.
“The image shows a bright ring formed as light bends in the intense gravity around a black hole that is 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun,” the Event Horizon Telescope team tweeted Wednesday.
Scientists have obtained the first image of a black hole, using Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87. The image shows a bright ring formed as light bends in the intense gravity around a black hole that is 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun pic.twitter.com/AymXilKhKe
— Event Horizon 'Scope (@ehtelescope) April 10, 2019
Bouman is a junior member of the Event Horizon Telescope, but her contribution to the project was especially valuable, a research scientist at MIT’s Haystack Observatory told CNN.
Bouman “was a major part of the imaging subteams,” Vincent Fish, a research scientist, told the news organization.
“One of the insights Katie brought to our imaging group is that there are natural images,” Fish said. “Just think about the photos you take with your camera phone ― they have certain properties. … If you know what one pixel is, you have a good guess as to what the pixel is next to it.”
Congratulations to Katie Bouman to whom we owe the first photograph of a black hole ever. Not seeing her name circulate nearly enough in the press. Amazing work. And here’s to more women in science (getting their credit and being remembered in history) 💥🔥☄️ pic.twitter.com/wcPhB6E5qK
— Tamy Emma Pepin (@TamyEmmaPepin) April 10, 2019
More than 200 scientists from observatories worldwide also contributed to the project, according to National Geographic.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Bouman said that she didn’t know “anything about black holes” when she first started the project.
“I’ve been working on this project for almost six years now, and for the last year, we’ve basically had to have our lips sealed about this exact imaging process,” she told the Post, describing the process behind the algorithms that led to the image.
“Even my family, I haven’t been able to tell them yet,” she added. “But it’s so amazing to be able to finally tell the world.”
As photos of the black hole made the rounds on the internet Wednesday, so did praise for Bauman and her accomplishment.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who, like Bauman, is 29 and made history this year, as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, celebrated the computer scientist for her tremendous accomplishment.
“Take your rightful seat in history, Dr. Bouman,” the congresswoman tweeted. ”Congratulations and thank you for your enormous contribution to the advancements of science and mankind.”
Take your rightful seat in history, Dr. Bouman! 🔭Congratulations and thank you for your enormous contribution to the advancements of science and mankind.Here’s to #WomenInSTEM!👩🏻🔬👩🏾💻👩🏼🏭👩🏿🏫 https://t.co/3cs9QYrz9C