Black holes, those points of infinite density from which even light can't escape, are one of the biggest puzzles in the universe. We've never even seen a black hole with our own eyes.
We're used to seeing illustrations like this:
Or this one:
Yes, these are all awesome illustrations, but an actual black hole image would be infinitely more awesome.
MIT graduate student Katie Bouman and her team wants to make that happen. They've created an algorithm capable of producing the first image of a black hole.
How to take a black hole picture
Getting a snapshot of a black hole is no easy task. Black holes are fairly small points in space, and the closest ones to Earth are still tens of thousands of light-years away. We'd need a huge telescope to get a direct image.
"If you had a telescope the size of the entire Earth, you could get a picture of what a black hole looks like," Bouman told Popular Science.
Building an Earth-sized telescope isn't a feasible option, so we have to work with the closest thing we have: the Event Horizon Telescope.
The EHT works by linking up a whole system of radio wave telescopes around the world to observe black holes. Radio waves work especially well for such a task because they can pierce through all the atmosphere and cosmic dust that sits between the Earth and black holes, then return sharp images.
The problem is that the data that comes back from all the different telescopes is a jumbled mess. Bouman's algorithm is designed to sort through all the EHT data, pick out the important pieces and stitch them together into clear images.
The team will continue tweaking their algorithm in the coming months. Fingers crossed that we'll see some real black hole images soon.