I have to make a confession: I'm not usually up on my space news. But, when a woman makes a groundbreaking achievement in the field, you better believe I take note — because yaaasss. So naturally I tuned in to celebrate the first ever black hole image, and the woman who helped make it possible. And I wasn't alone. These tweets are celebrating Katie Bouman for her role in this major event, as well they should.
On April 10, the world got its first ever glimpse of a black hole thanks to a team of scientists who pieced the image together via the Event Horizon Telescope, a network of 10 telescopes around the world. The image depicting a dark spot with a bright orange-looking ring around it was groundbreaking as the first of its kind. While the achievement was a team effort, one name is catching attention: Bouman, a 29-year-old computer scientist and assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology, who led the development of an algorithm that allowed the first-ever black hole image to be taken, according to BBC News. The seed for the computer program that would later make history was first planted three years prior to the release of first image, as Bouman reportedly started creating the tech while she was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Bouman's instrumental role in making the photo happen drew cheers and celebration for women in the sciences, with some people comparing her work to that of the female computers and mathematicians who helped achieve the moon landing in 1969. Honestly, all the tweets celebrating her are just pure joy.
Even Bouman herself couldn't really believe what she and her team had done. On Wednesday, April 10, she updated her Facebook profile picture where she's looking at the camera with her hands crossed over her mouth and an image of the black hole on the laptop in front of her. "Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed," she wrote.
Why all the praise for a photo? Well, snapping a pic of a black hole is not as easy as whipping out a camera to point and shoot. Black holes, according to Space News, are nearly impossible to see unless you capture ones that are interacting with their environment and forming a bright disk of gas or other materials... so ultimately, what you actually capture is the ring of light and the shadow of the black hole. The Event Horizon Telescope basically collected tons of gigabytes of data using a technique called interferometry which often works with electromagnetic waves, and Bouman's algorithm helped create a pipeline to stitch it all together, according to CNN.
Women make up a very small portion of the workforce in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field. As of 2016, though women make up half of the college-educated workforce, they only make up 29 percent of the STEM workforce, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) — an organization aimed at encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM. The number is even lower when you break it down by category. While women make up around 62 percent of those in the social sciences field and 48 percent of biological, agricultural and environmental life sciences, they only make up 15 percent of the workforce in engineering and 25 percent in computer and mathematical sciences.
But if there's anything to take away from this latest, groundbreaking achievement, it's that progress never stops. Congratulations to Bouman and the rest of the team. They're probably inspiring a bunch of little girls, right now.