Black hole photo turns US computer scientist Katie Bouman, 29, into overnight star

Anonymous to the public just days ago, a 29-year-old American computer scientist has become an overnight sensation because of her role in developing a computer algorithm that allowed researchers to take the world’s first image of a black hole.

“I’m so excited that we finally get to share what we have been working on for the past year!” Katie Bouman, a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, wrote on her Facebook account on Wednesday after the image was published.

The term “black hole” refers to a point in space where matter is so compressed that it creates a gravity field from which even light cannot escape.

The massive black hole in the photo released Wednesday is 50 million light years away at the centre of a galaxy known as M87.

While the existence of black holes have been long known, the phenomenon proved impossible to witness.

In 2016, Bouman developed an algorithm named CHIRP to sift through a true mountain of data gathered by the Event Horizon Telescope project from telescopes around the world to create an image.

The volume of data – four petabytes (4 million billion bytes) – was contained in a mountain of computer hard drives weighing several hundred pounds that had to be physically transported to the Haystack Observatory in Westford, Massachusetts, operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

To guarantee the accuracy of the image, the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysics Centre, operated by Harvard University, gave the data to four different teams. Each team independently used the algorithm to obtain an image.

After a month of work, the four groups presented their results to the other teams.

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