Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Black Hole Revealed!

I am in awe of the results of the Event Horizon Telescope team in their image of M87*, the supermassive black hole at the center of a distant galaxy!  I can't help but be especially excited at the role that computer scientists played in the analysis and reconstruction of the data collected by the radio telescopes to produce the image.

Radio astronomers have been doing long-baseline interferometry for a while now to produce images.  But the challenges of the Event Horizon Telescope were beyond what the earlier processing algorithms could make sense of.  The software team led by Katie Bouman developed the CHIRP algorithm that kind of blows my mind.  It warms my heart that women in science are finally getting some of the recognition they deserve.  (It also depresses me greatly that misogynist trolls are getting some press; geeze, can't we just enjoy the accomplishment?)  Anyway, Katie did a Ted Talk a few years ago that gives some excellent explanation about the algorithm.

If you want some understanding of why the image looks the way it does, I think that Derek Muller's Veritasium video does the best job that I've seen.  He also has a good follow-up video.

I also really appreciated astrophysicist Becky Smethurst's video that explains why the results are important (it's more than just further supporting Einstein's theory of gravitation).