Katie Bouman: The woman behind the first black hole image

Katie Bouman

Katie Bouman

"It came together because of lots of different people from many different backgrounds".

But the team was up to the task.

In the image released Wednesday, the black hole is outlined by an orange ring that is actually emission from hot gas swirling near its event horizon.

The data they captured was stored on hundreds of hard drives that were flown to central processing centres in Boston, US, and Bonn, Germany. For Katie Bouman, it was all that, plus the culmination of three years of work, the realization of a goal that scientists thought to be impossible, and the event that will launch her into history.

It has been nearly a century since Albert Einstein first made the historic prediction of the existence of black holes in his theory of gravity. "We are trying to change that", she said. "The ring came so easily".

Dr Bouman and her team developed these algorithms that converted telescopic data into photos (like this one).

In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is a process or set of rules used to solve problems. With enthusiasm, she describes all the other unseeable things that might be seen with the right combination of hardware and software.

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Supermassive black holes are situated at the center of most galaxies, including ours, and are so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape their gravitational pull. The ring of material that surrounds M87*, which has the mass of 6.5 billion suns, "is something that we were incredibly confident about".

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The project, named Even Horizon Telescope, is the biggest experiment of its kind.

But atmospheric disturbance and the spareness of the measurements meant "an infinite number of possible images" could explain the data, Bouman said.

After an worldwide group of scientists revealed the first ever photos of a black hole on Wednesday, the Internet quickly turned its attention to the 29-year-old computer scientist who played a key role. "The imaging algorithms we develop fill in the gaps of data we are missing in order to reconstruct a picture of the black hole".

She recalls standing in Mexico two years ago, at one of the sites where telescopes were collecting data on a galaxy 54 million light years away, information she would eventually help transform. Bouman has already worked on looking around corners by analyzing tiny shadows and determining the material properties of objects in videos by measuring tiny motions that are invisible to the naked eye.

Q: When did you know the black hole was, well, a hole? Which is what we have the privilege of doing now.

Using telescopes all over the world from Antarctica to Chile, the project involved a team of more than 200 scientists.

The new image confirmed yet another piece of Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Bouman did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for an interview.

She had started developing the algorithm while she was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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