UConn astronomy community responds joyously to M87 black hole image

This image released Wednesday, April 10, 2019, by Event Horizon Telescope shows a black hole. Scientists revealed the first image ever made of a black hole after assembling data gathered by a network of radio telescopes around the world. (Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/Maunakea Observatories via AP)

The highly anticipated release of the image of the galaxy Messier 87 black hole on Wednesday has caused excitement and joy for students and professors at the University of Connecticut studying astrophysics, according to physics professor Jonathan Trump.

“When I listened to the press conference yesterday, most of the team involved expressed relief. And I think that is how I felt,” Trump said. “This was a huge investment of time, expensive facilties and money, and I was glad to see that it paid off as spectacularly as promised.”

The image was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope, which is comprised of eight separate telescopes around the world that work together to essentially make an observatory the size of the Earth. The images and data were then sent to MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the MIT Haystack Observatory, according to Science News.

Katie Bouman, a postgraduate computer scientist and assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology, developed the algorithm that created the image of the first black hole three years ago. Together with 200 other scientists around the world, Bouman successfully reconstructed the image this week, according to BBC News.

Trump said the image is an incredible accomplishment for both astronomers and researchers in general who pursue projects.

“There is a compact any time you ask the public for funding on research,” Trump said. “You really need to deliver on that compact, and the image was a tremendous technical achievement.”

Despite the mysteriousness of black holes given their distance away from Earth and the limited knowledge humans have of them, Trump said the objects are not that difficult to figure out.

“Black holes are really simple things – they are exotic and extreme and they are literally rips in space and time and the fabric of reality,” Trump said. “These are tremendously powerful and extreme astrophysical beasts but they are really simple mathematically.”

Trump said the image will help astrophysicists and mathematicians learn more about the nature of the specific M87 black hole, as well as the Sagittarius A*, which is the black hole believed to be at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.

“You have the mass of the black hole, which dictates exactly the size,” Trump said. “Then you have the spin of the black hole that dictates how it bends space around it.”

Yasaman Homayouni, physics graduate student of Trump’s, said the black hole image is incredible, but it is only one small step into the observations astronomers may be able to make in the future.

“This really opens up so many doors,” Homayouni said. “We are pushing the limit of what we can observe and increasing the resolution of what we can observe.”

Josh Macado, sixth-semester physics major and the president of the UConn Astronomy Association, said he was shocked and amazed at all the information one simple image can tell mankind about what is beyond the solar system.

“I thought it was pretty incredible. I think the image definitely lived up to all the anticipation,” Macado said. “Hearing all the news and facts that come along with it is kind of astounding.”

Trump said in the future, he is excited to see how research will contribute more to the understanding of space and how it operates outside of Earth.

“It is a really fun time to be an astronomer,” Trump said. “It is also a very fun time to study black holes in particular.”


Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. They can be reached via email at taylor.harton@uconn.edu.