How Global Teamwork Helped Create the First Black Hole Image

Eight telescopes and 200 scientists collaborated to make astrophysics history

First image of a black hole (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
First image of a black hole (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Taking the first photograph of a black hole—and making astrophysics history in the process—took more than mere theoretical brilliance. In fact, it mostly took years of hard work and a far-flung team of scientists cooperating from all around the world.

What began nearly 25 years ago as the germ of an idea from MIT doctoral student Sheperd Doeleman eventually grew into the Event Horizon Telescope. This project, however, entailed far more than just building one space exploration device. Instead, it would require an unprecedented amount of collaboration for Doeleman’s theory to come to fruition. To achieve its success, the EHT effort ultimately enlisted eight telescopes from around the globe, along with 60 different institutions and 200 scientists.

The sacrifices he was asking from this team was no small thing, either. “People have careers to think about,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “It was like jumping off a cliff and building a parachute on the way down.”

Once they finally collected in April 2017 what they thought was sufficient data to piece together an actual image of black hole, the real work began. The team had create algorithms to sift through and process the massive petabytes of data and then write and submit six academic papers for review and acceptance. At the end of the successful journey, though, Doeleman expresses just as much admiration of the scientific cooperation that produced the historic image he does at the picture itself: “I’m just proud of the team. I think of the team as the thing that was built here.”


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