Written by

Chris Gonzales

Welcome to this week’s edition of our Friday Quality Linkage column. Please enjoy this week’s collection of interesting and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee, find a comfortable place, and relax.

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This Week’s Featured News

Astronomers Capture the First Image of a Black Hole »

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’ve probably already heard this news:

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration — was designed to capture images of a black hole. Today, in coordinated press conferences across the globe, EHT researchers reveal that they have succeeded, unveiling the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow.

This breakthrough was announced today in a series of six papers published in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The image reveals the black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.

To understand the sheer immensity of what you’re looking at above, Randall Munroe of XKCD released a comic depicting the scale of the thing versus our solar system:


Like, what.

Even the way they captured the image is a story of its own:

Although the telescopes making up the EHT are not physically connected, they are able to synchronize their recorded data with atomic clocks — hydrogen masers — which precisely time their observations. These observations were collected at a wavelength of 1.3 mm during a 2017 global campaign. Each telescope of the EHT produced enormous amounts of data – roughly 350 terabytes per day – which was stored on high-performance helium-filled hard drives. These data were flown to highly specialised supercomputers — known as correlators — at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and MIT Haystack Observatory to be combined. They were then painstakingly converted into an image using novel computational tools developed by the collaboration.

The creation of those computational tools was led by a 29yo female researcher and MIT grad named Katie Bouman:

“We developed ways to generate synthetic data and used different algorithms and tested blindly to see if we can recover an image. We didn’t want to just develop one algorithm. We wanted to develop many different algorithms that all have different assumptions built into them. If all of them recover the same general structure, then that builds your confidence,” Bouman told CNN. “No matter what we did, you would have to bend over backwards crazy to get something that wasn’t this ring.”

Bouman did a TED talk a couple years ago, explaining how the project would work:

There are a lot more crazy things to learn about this monumental discovery, but for now I’ll just leave you with this 3-minute explainer:

The black hole thing was really the only major thing this week, so now we’re moving onto…

Miscellaneous Links

  • [Video:] Angus Deveson of the Maker’s Muse YouTube channel demonstrates a series of non-spherical objects that can still roll. I had no idea these kinds of awesome shapes existed. Most of the examples shown are ones he 3D printed himself, but he does show a stainless steel one you can buy.

  • Ever wished you knew how to resolve disagreements with your partner in a healthier way? Ellie Lisitsa of the Gottman Institute — a company that’s spent decades developing research-based approaches to healthier relationships — offers some example phrases you can use to de-escalate those kinds of heated conflicts.

  • [Video:] This hilarious deleted scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a masterclass in comedic character acting by Emma Thompson. I don’t know how the actress sitting next to her stopped herself from cracking up, because I certainly couldn’t do it.

  • [Video:] Oh, did I mention there’s a teaser trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX??? Time to GET PUMPED.


Neat Stuff We Published This Week

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Got any suggestions for articles, videos, stories, photographs, and any other links you think we should be posting in our weekly Quality Linkage? Please do let us know on Twitter.