KUALA LUMPUR, April 11 ― Kevin Koay Jun Yi from Penang has the distinction of being among the first team of global scientists to have captured the first image of a black hole ― an astronomical achievement that is making waves worldwide since its release yesterday.
The first image of a black hole became a meme as people compared it to things like food. Its "event horizon"-the precipice, or point of no return where light and matter get sucked inexorably into the hole-is as big as our entire solar system". This black hole is an almost-unimaginable 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun. "This makes us confident about the interpretation of our observations, including our estimation of the black hole's mass".
The project has also targeted another black hole - Sagittarius A* - situated at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.
A 29-year-old computer scientist has earned plaudits worldwide for helping develop the algorithm that created the first-ever image of a black hole. They were tasked with essentially hitting go on a supercomputer that would combine the data from each telescope and finally reveal the image the world was anxiously waiting to see.
"That was the happiest moment I've ever had [when] I saw all the other teams had images that were very similar, with the lower half brighter than the top half". We could have gotten just a blob.
"This technique of linking radio dishes across the globe to create an Earth-sized interferometer, has been used to measure the size of the emission regions of the two supermassive black holes with the largest apparent event horizons", according to EHT. With the extra imaging muscle, she says, they may one day be able to create videos of black holes in addition to the still images.
Researchers' data showed the black hole at the heart of Messier 87 (M87), a galaxy within the Virgo cluster located about 55 million light-years from Earth. We can't see it, but its event horizon casts a shadow, and an image of that shadow could help answer some important questions about the universe.
Bouman's algorithm - CHIRP (or Continuous High-resolution Image Reconstruction using Patch priors) - uses the sparse data collected from telescopes to help choose and verify an image to help fill in the gaps. And it is one of the heaviest black holes that we think exist.
"We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago", said EHT project director Sheperd S. Doeleman.
In a Ted Talk published in 2016, Bouman discussed how black holes still have not been directly observed, citing Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.
But the danger is we don't want to inject additional information into the problem, so as to bias our result toward something that we would expect to see.
Jessica Dempsey, another co-discoverer and deputy director of the East Asian Observatory in Hawaii, said the fiery circle reminded her of the flaming Eye of Sauron from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
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