The image of the black hole released on Wednesday 10 April took “breaking the internet” to a completely different level entirely. It marked yet another milestone in the search to understand the final frontier. The black hole in question is located in a distant galaxy (500 million trillion km away to be exact) called M87, and is reportedly three million times the size of Earth, larger than our whole Solar System and greater than the mass of the Sun by 6.5 billion times! Yeah, you read that right. It’s almost unbelievable when the image itself doesn’t do the actual size of the black hole justice. However, acquiring the picture was no small feat; a linked network of eight telescopes knows as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) were used, and the effort of 200 scientists was required to point the telescopes towards the galaxy, and observe its centre over the course of 10 days.
Turns out the magnitude of information they received from their observations were so extensive that they couldn’t be sent through the Internet. Instead, the data was saved on hard drives which were consequently flown to Boston, US, and Bonn, Germany where the information was assembled at central processing centres. This is where Katie Bouman came in. Katie Bouman was a PhD student at MIT when she created an algorithm that compiled the data from the EHT. Her creation was so vital that the success of the project would have been impossible without it (queue Beyonce’s, “who run the world? girls!”).
Funnily enough, the black hole appears to be pretty similar to what Hollywood has been feeding us for decades; what can only be described as a halo of fire surrounding an almost perfectly circular black hole. The light exuded from the halo is brighter than the combination of all the billions of stars within the galaxy, and hence why it can be viewed from Earth.
My love for astronomy and all things space really began to develop a few years ago, and since then my engrossment with the final frontier has only grown. However, at the end of the day, you don’t need to love astronomy, or be an astrophysicist in order to appreciate the ground-breaking image we now have access to, and the incredible work and contributions of everyone who made it possible. The beauty and wonder of space is infinite, and that just makes it all the more exciting.