MIT grad developed algorithm used to capture ground-breaking photo of black hole

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. (WHDH) - Scientists shared a ground-breaking photo of a black hole on Wednesday, partly thanks to an algorithm created by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate.

Katie Bouman developed the algorithm three years ago while working with MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the MIT Haystack Observatory and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The 29-year-old says the success of capturing the first-of-its-kind image was a combined effort between her algorithm, 13 years of study and preparation, and a team of more than 200 scientists.

Several of the scientists involved were from the MIT Haystack Observatory, including Vincent Fish.

“To have to wait this long, it’s been frustrating in one sense but now so amazing that we have the results,” he told 7News.

Courtesy of MIT

Scientists coordinated eight different radio telescopes and synced them all to an atomic clock, giving them the photographic power of a telescope the size of the entire earth.

This helped them collect data about a galaxy called M-87.

Scientists used Bouman’s imagery algorithm and many others to piece together the picture.

MIT Haystack Observatory scientist Kazunori Akiyama, along with many others, doubted if they would be able to see the black hole’s shadow.

“Just before the imaging, with the M-87 data, I was not so sure we can see a shadow, even before we have the data set, so it’s really exciting,” he said.

The tell-tale shadow at the center of the black hole ended up being clearly visible in the picture.

University of Amsterdam scientist Sera Markoff explained, “You’re really looking at a super-massive black hole that’s almost the size of our entire solar system.”

Scientists say the picture Bouman helped capture proves Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Bouman has since graduated from MIT and will start as an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology this fall.

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