Black Hole

This article shows the recent controversy of Katie Bouman, the "face" of the Black hole picture.


The first, direct image of the black hole.

For the first time in history, a direct picture of the black hole was taken. At this time the process for naming the stellar entity is underway. The name of the galaxy that contains this super-massive black hole is called NGC 4486 or Messier 87, M87 for short. It has, up until now, been impossible to get a clear, concise picture of the black hole.  This picture is revolutionary because it is the closest humanity has ever gotten to seeing these cosmic giants.

Black holes are a region of spacetime exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing—not even particles and electromagnetic radiation such as light—can escape it. This is why taking a picture of the black hole is close to impossible: photographs are created by using reflected light.  Any light particles in the vicinity are all sucked into a black hole and can’t leave. This has made taking pictures of the black hole impossible, until now.

This impossible task, however, was achieved by utilizing the observatories across the globe working in tandem as one virtual Earth-sized radio dish with sharper vision than any single observatory could achieve on its own. It used a technique called “very long baseline interferometry,” which involved combining radio waves seen by many telescopes at once, so that the telescopes effectively work together like one giant dish. These  factors allowed an image of the black hole to be created.

This incredible picture was taken by Harvard students, with Dr. Katie Bouman creating the algorithm that made the picture of the black hole possible.  There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Dr. Bouman. Some feel her role in the operation has been overly exaggerated and emphasized by many news articles and public figures. This attention was due to a photo that she shared on Instagram and Twitter, which is currently deactivated.

The picture that is the cause of Katie Bouman to be the face of the operation.

Public figures worldwide soon learned her name, and advocates, familiar with how history can write over the contributions of women, quickly moved to make sure she received the recognition she deserved. In their eagerness to celebrate her, however, many non-scientists on social media overstated her role in what was a group effort, contributed to by hundreds of people, creating an exaggerated impression as the photo was shared and re-shared.  As a result, people only learned of Dr. Bouman and thought that she was the sole researcher that made the photo of the black hole possible.

However, Dr. Bouman in fact only wrote a few thousand lines of coding of the millions that were required to make the program work to take the photo of the black hole. There continues to talk over the legitimacy of who deserves the title of accomplishing the amazing feat of the black hole picture. The only thing that’s certain is that the algorithm that the team created is a huge jump in astronomy.