Black Hole Photo History
It’s been an exciting week for space enthusiasts, space fiction fans, rocket scientists, and computer scientists. For the first time ever, we have an idea of what the elusive, oft-written-about black hole looks like.
Beautiful, right? Incredible even. What’s amazing to me is that we took pictures of light in a place where light gets sucked in but never spit out again. I always imagined that we could never see anything once that big vacuum cleaner in the cosmos had swallowed it, not even if we built the world’s strongest computer with the most sophisticated brain.
Fortunately for all of us, I’m not an astrophysicist or a computer scientist. Even more fortunately for all of us, Dr. Katie Bouman is. Bouman is a computer scientist who was part of a team that created a set of algorithms that took the “sparse and noisy data” collected from telescopes and turned them into an image. According to TIME magazine, Bouman says what really makes her tick is “coming up with ways to see or measure things that are invisible.”
The MIT postdoctoral fellow shared this photo of herself “watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed.”
Encouraging More Women in Space and Science
What’s great about Dr. Bouman’s story is that in addition to raising the profile of all the brilliant women researchers in #STEM, we get a chance to talk again about books that focus on women in STEM, computer science, black holes, and the study of space. (And we get to say Event Horizon Telescope a lot, which is just plain fun.)
Unfortunately, the numbers on women researchers in STEM fields are still dismal, hovering somewhere around 30% by many estimates. Clearly, we’ve got a lot of work to do encouraging and supporting women in these fields–and it begins with our middle-grade readers.
Book List for a Black Hole Moment
Here’s a handful of books to help stir our girls’ imaginations and spur them to become the next Dr. Katie Bouman.
A Black Hole is not a Hole, by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
If a black hole is not a hole, then what is it? Find out what black holes are, what causes them, and how scientists first discovered them. Learn how astronomers find black holes, get to know our nearest black-hole neighbor, and take a journey that will literally s-t-r-e-t-c-h the mind.
Exoplanets, by Karen Latchana Kenney (Twenty-First Century Books TM)
Until the mid-1990s, scientists only guessed that the universe held exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system. But using advanced physics and powerful telescopes, scientists have since identified more than three thousand exoplanets. This work has revealed fascinating worlds, including a planet that oozes lavalike fluids and a planet that glows bright pink.
Even more fascinating, scientists think that some exoplanets might contain life. Many orbit in the Goldilocks zone, the region around a star that’s not too hot or too cold for liquid water, a key ingredient for life. This book examines exoplanets, the possibilities for life beyond Earth, and the cutting-edge technologies scientists use to learn about distant worlds.
This book features astrophysicist Sara Seager.
Astronaut/Aquanaut, by Jennifer Swanson (National Geographic)
Margaret Hamilton loved numbers as a young girl. She knew how many miles it was to the moon (and how many back). She loved studying algebra and geometry and calculus and using math to solve problems in the outside world.
Soon math led her to MIT and then to helping NASA put a man on the moon! She handwrote code that would allow the spacecraft’s computer to solve any problems it might encounter. Apollo 8. Apollo 9. Apollo 10. Apollo 11. Without her code, none of those missions could have been completed.
Dean Robbins and Lucy Knisley deliver a lovely portrayal of a pioneer in her field who never stopped reaching for the stars.
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux/Square FIsh)
Not a new entry, not even from this century, but I couldn’t resist reminding everyone that an early and definitive female character in a book about space was Meg Murray.
A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe. They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem — a wrinkle in time.
A Wrinkle in Time is the winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal.